PAOLO Taha was a rookie the first time GlobalPort made it to the semifinals.
Bannered by the fierce duo of Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle, the Batang Pier beat Barako Bull in the first phase of the quarterfinals before stunning Ginebra in the one-game playoff to Final Four of the 2015-16 Philippine Cup.
Three seasons after, the rechristened NorthPort is back in the semifinals and Taha, who had stops in Mahindra and Ginebra before returning home, is just overjoyed to once again be in contention for the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup.
"Syempre masaya kami kasi lahat ng hardwork namin, nagbunga na," said the 6-foot guard, who along with head coach Pido Jarencio are the only remnants of that 2015-16 squad that made it to the semis.
Hardwork could be an understatement for the valiant effort of the Batang Pier, who overcame twice-to-beat disadvantage to stun NLEX, 126-123 in triple-overtime and become only the fourth eight-seed team to upset the no. 1 team in a playoff.
"Hindi madali. Sobrang hirap talaga," said Taha, who fired seven points in the win. "Sobrang thankful kami na nakuha namin ang panalo. Happy kami lahat na nanalo kami sa No. 1 seed sa napakahirap na laro."
Pieces may be different, with key cogs like Romeo and Pringle already gone and replaced by figures like Christian Standhardinger, Sean Anthony, and import Michael Qualls, but the bond is stronger than ever.
Quite a feat for a team that has been ravaged by injuries, notably on super rookie Robert Bolick, and had to welcome Fil-German forward Standhardinger after a mid-conference trade with San Miguel.
"Si coach, gusto niya pag naglalaro kami, same page kami parati. Collective effort," said Taha. "Maganda ang chemistry namin kaya maganda ang naging resulta ng game. Ang laking bagay ng chemistry namin."
The last time the Batang Pier got to the semis, they got beat by Alaska in five games. They hope to have a different ending in a best-of-five series against Barangay Ginebra that starts on Dec. 13.