MANILA, Philippines – While he has been an avid observer in Gilas Pilipinas practices for some time now, Monday marked the first time that Ricci Rivero officially participated in the weekly training sessions at the Meralco Gym.
Rivero, a Mythical Team member during the recently concluded UAAP Season 80 tournament, ran drills with members of the national team pool, including those from the "23 for 23" group. Later in the night, he learned the intricacies of the offense with the Gilas Pilipinas cadets.
It was an encouraging experience for the young Rivero, who has had a trying weekend. It was revealed last Friday that he, together with brother Prince and teammate Brent Paraiso, had taken a leave of absence from De La Salle University's basketball team to fulfill their contract obligations after signing various endorsement deals.
"Okay naman," Rivero said of his first practice. "Welcome naman ako, and at the same time, at least now may nalalaruan na ako na medyo competitive."
Rivero cannot practice with the Green Archers, although he is still attending classes at La Salle. He said he has worked out with various teams, including Marinerong Pilipino as his father is friends with head coach Koy Banal.
Yet there is obviously something special in training with the national team pool, especially for Rivero who has represented the Philippines in various international tournaments from the time he was 13-years-old.
"Who doesn't want to play for the country?" said Rivero.
"Sobrang fulfilled (ko)," he added. "Na-feel ko talaga na welcomed ako ng mga coaches and players."
Rivero admitted that he was somewhat starstruck during practice, especially as he got to work on drills with PBA superstars such as June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, and Jayson Castro – all of whom have been stalwarts of the national team program.
But the one person that he looked forward to working with most was current NLEX rookie guard Kiefer Ravena.
"Ever since talaga (idol ko siya), kahit noong high school pa lang siya," Rivero bared. "Parang one step ahead siya palagi doon sa ibang players."
Rivero intends to keep practicing with the national team, especially as he has now gotten clearance from La Salle. However, he also made it clear that he is still not officially part of the "23 for 23" pool.
"Pumayag na 'yung La Salle," he said. "Sabi nila, for now you can practice with them while you're not training with the team."
"Sobrang big factor (nito) kasi kaka-start pa lang ng college career ko, tapos I get to play with them na," he also said. "Sobrang malaking experience siya for me."
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