MANILA, Philippines -- At 28 years old, Kiefer Ravena is now the elder statesman of the Gilas Pilipinas group that competed in the third window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.
Ravena served as the captain of the national team in their tune-up games against South Korea as well as their qualifying match-ups against New Zealand and India last week. They went 1-1 in the FIBA window, losing badly against the Tall Blacks but beating India in front of their home fans at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The NLEX and Shiga guard has a wealth of experience in international basketball, having been playing for the Philippines since he was a teenager. But Ravena admits that there's something special about suiting up with this particular group.
"sarap kasama," he said after Gilas registered a solid 79-63 win against India on Sunday night, where he contributed 12 points and four assists in 20 minutes.
"Nagiging bata ako," he added. "Nakakatawa kasi every time nagfi-fill up kami ng form, nakikita ko ang mga teammates ko, born 2000, '99, '98."
"May sumisingit na '93 doon," said Ravena, who was born on October 27, 1993.
For the third window of the qualifiers, Ravena teamed up with the likes of Carl Tamayo (21 years old), Kevin Quiambao (21), Francis Lopez (19), RJ Abarrientos (22), and SJ Belangel (23).
Also present were 23-year-old Dwight Ramos, 25-year-old Will Navarro, and 24-year-old Rhenz Abando. Ramos and Navarro are already mainstays of the national team program, but Abando was making his Gilas debut in the window.
Despite the gap in their age and level of experience, Ravena felt very much part of the group, and he was delighted to learn what he can from his younger teammates.
"Nakakatuwa, kasi kasama pa din ako sa process ng pagiging better as a player, better individual," said Ravena. "I'm willing to learn from these young men."
He also took pride in serving as a mentor to the other players, notably to Belangel and Abarrientos. Both guards are set to ply their trade in the Korean Basketball League (KBL) this year, and Ravena shared with them what he learned during his time as an Asian import in Japan's B.League.
"The guards, I kinda took it upon myself to take them under my wing, especially since both of them are going overseas," said Ravena. "Talking to them everytime na may opportunity na mag-uusap kami through breakfast, or dinner or lunch whatever on and off the court."
Ravena is likely to get more opportunities to mentor his younger teammates while also learning from them, as Gilas is set to compete in the FIBA Asia Cup in Indonesia starting July 12.
There, Ravena hopes they can build on what they showed against India, where they used their pressure defense to race out to a big lead in the first half and held firm in the end game.
"Hopefully, this is a sign for a lot of improvement for the team, for the program," said Ravena.