MANILA, Philippines – It sounded so unlikely that even Asi Taulava himself thought he got pranked.
At 45 years old, Taulava couldn't quite believe that he got lined up in the 14-man pool for the Asian Games in Indonesia.
"I thought I was seeing things!" a giddy Taulava told reporters after the team wrapped up its first practice at the Meralco Gym on Monday, August 6.
"Somebody messaged me to check social media. I haven't been active on social media and they said, 'Check it, there's a surprise for you.' I thought somebody ran a prank or something."
"And when I saw my name, I was like, 'Oh my God!' I started calling my wife, 'We made it back!' At 45! Wow."
Taulava – the oldest player in the PBA this season – will don the national colors again since helping Gilas Pilipinas land a silver in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.
If he makes the final 12-man cut, it will also be his 3rd Asian Games following stints in the 2002 and 2010 editions. (LOOK: Gilas Pilipinas lineup for 2018 Asian Games)
But even if he's no longer as strong as he was in his previous national tours of duty, "Ageless Asi" remains thirsty for competition.
"Playing in the PBA, I'm a different Asi. But playing for Team Pilipinas, I'm a different animal. I don't have any friends in the other teams," he said.
"My objective is to take their head off and try to win the ball game."
First day of Team PILIPINAS practice in the books. I’m excited to represent our Country just like my first tour in 2002! #AgelessOne #Stretch5 #TeamPilipinas A post shared by Asi Taulava (@agelessasi88) on Aug 6, 2018 at 8:27am PDT
Taulava and the rest of coach Yeng Guiao's crew have only two weeks to prepare for the Asiad, yet Philippine basketball officials expect the team to improve on the country's 7th-place finish in the 2014 edition. (READ: Guiao’s cramming PH team starts Asian Games prep)
Philippine Olympic Committe president Ricky Vargas attended the team's first training along with several basketball officials led by Samahang Basketbol Pilipinas president Al Panlilio. (READ: SBP backtracks: PH sending team to 2018 Asian Games)
"You cannot let the public down and you cannot let your fellow athletes down," Vargas told the team. "Our objective is to improve on our last performance in the Asian Games."
"So you cannot be 8th or worse. Neither can you be 7th, because that will not be an improvement. We expect you to do better, perhaps get us a medal. If that happens, we will truly have reason to celebrate."
Taulava believes it's a feasible goal even if some think that placing higher than 7th should be considered a victory in itself, given that the team has less than two weeks to prepare.
"Ultimate goal is the gold medal," said Taulava. "If we fall short, at least we continue to go for our goal, but we are not settling for the 7th place."
Known as a bruising big man, the former PBA Most Valuable Player will take on a new role for the Nationals as a stretch 5.
In NLEX's 114-125 loss to San Miguel last June 23, Taulava displayed his outside touch by drilling in 5 triples en route to 18 points on top of 9 rebounds.
"Me knocking down a couple threes is going to be fun. I'm looking forward to that. I love the new me now – just running around the perimeter, shooting threes. It's a lot easier for my body." – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.