MANILA, Philippines -- Filipino-Tongan center Moala Tautuaa has long dreamt of playing for Gilas Pilipinas.
However, he cannot represent the country in a FIBA-sanctioned 5-on-5 event, as he was not able to obtain a Philippine passport before the age of 16. Tautuaa, a former top overall pick in the PBA, did suit up for Gilas in the 2015 William Jones Cup, and helped the national 3x3 team win the gold medal in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
He will get to wear national team colors anew later this month, as Tautuaa is part of the Gilas Pilipinas 3x3 squad that will compete in the FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Graz, Austria from May 26-30.
Once he got the call-up from the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas to be part of the OQT team, he did not hesitate to answer the call of duty.
"I received a two-part text message to invite me to the team," recalls Tautuaa. "But even before I received the second part of the invitation, I already replied that I wanted to come."
Tautuaa, now a center for San Miguel Beer in the PBA, is well aware that 3x3 is different from the full-court version of the game that he has been playing all his life. The ball is smaller, the shot clock is shorter, and the game is faster.
The 2019 SEA Games marked Tautuaa's 3x3 debut. There, he together with CJ Perez, Jason Perkins, and Chris Newsome were dominant, sweeping the competition en route to the gold.
The level of play will be much higher in the OQT, however, as they face Slovenia, France, Qatar, and the Dominican Republic -- all of whom are active in the global FIBA 3x3 circuit.
Still, Tautuaa is confident especially as they have the country's top player in Joshua Munzon, along with no. 6 Karl Dehesa and no. 8 Santi Santillan, has guided them during their seven-day camp in INSPIRE Sports Academy.
"This is going to be the first time we played against this caliber, this level, me and CJ. Josh, Alvin [Pasaol], Santi, and Karl have experienced it in the pro circuit," he said.
In that brief camp, Tautuaa was quick to realize that their opponents in the OQT will be bigger and more skilled, compared to the competition in the SEA Games. He is thus determined to improve on other facets of his game when they return to the Calamba facility later this week.
"You can't just be fast, you also have to be strong. But you can't just be strong, you also need to shoot or post up in 3x3," he said.
"I feel I can dabble with all those areas, not at the highest level, but good enough to where the defense will respect me wherever I am on the floor," he added.
"I'm thankful to the SBP, Boss Al [Panlilio], and Coach Ronnie [Magsanoc] for this opportunity to represent the country," Tautuaa also said. "We want to win and we got that Filipino brand. We're not going to back down to anybody. We're going to go there and see what we go."
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