MANILA, Philippines -- Taane Samuel is aware that he did not make much of an impression when he played in the Philippines in 2018.
The 22-year-old Samuel played just four games for De La Salle University in UAAP Season 81, all of which ended in defeats. He averaged just 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in 13.5 minutes per game, well below expectations.
"I didn't really perform to the best of my abilities when I was here," Samuel said honestly.
It was thus a big deal for Samuel that he performed well for New Zealand in the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers. The big man was part of the Tall Blacks' roster for the February window, and he played in all three of their games -- all victories.
Samuel, who left La Salle after Season 81, averaged eight points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in the window. Fittingly, he had his best game against the Philippines, where he put up 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting along with three boards and two dimes.
"It was big," Samuel said of his performance. "It was kinda like a statement game for me."
"I just wanted to show them, like, showcase what I can do. Because people didn't really have faith in me when I was out here, especially playing for La Salle, you know, one of the biggest schools in the Philippines," he added.
"So yeah, this game was big for me. And it's so exhilarating, coming out and playing here again."
Samuel, who is signed to the Brisbane Bullets in Australia's National Basketball League, was also delighted to have played against his collegiate point guard Kib Montalbo, as well as rivals Thirdy Ravena and Juan Gomez de Liaño.
"Playing against Thirdy again, playing against Juan again, it's different. It's good to see how far they've come, and it's good to see how much they've flourished as basketball players," the 6-foot-7 big man added.
Like Samuel, the three are now professionals. Montalbo plays for the TNT Tropang GIGA in the PBA, while former Ateneo de Manila University star Ravena is with the San-En NeoPhoenix in Japan's B.League. Gomez de Liaño, after playing for the University of the Philippines, signed with B.League 2 side Earthfriends Tokyo Z but is now a free agent.
Samuel and the Tall Blacks will leave the Philippines with a 3-0 record in Group A of the qualifiers, including an 88-63 win against the Philippines.
For Samuel, it was an unforgettable trip back to the place that he briefly called home.
"I missed the crowd, it was good to see the turnout. I haven't played in a coliseum in a long time, and I knew that even though there wasn't gonna be as many people there, it was gonna be loud," said Samuel.
"I tried to prep the boys, tell them it was gonna get loud, tell them that the crowd was gonna get really into it. And, I was just excited, I missed it. I missed the atmosphere," he added.