MANILA, Philippines -- NLEX forward Calvin Oftana played just a little over 10 minutes in the Philippines' game against Saudi Arabia on Monday night, but he did enough to catch the eye of a Gilas Pilipinas legend.
"Sino 'yung No. 7?" former Gilas star Marc Pingris asked reporters after the game, an 84-46 triumph for Gilas Pilipinas.
Pingris apologized for not knowing who Oftana was, but upon learning the player's name, he immediately said: "Gustong-gusto ko siya."
A former NCAA Most Valuable Player, Oftana has emerged as the top option for the Road Warriors in just his second season with the team. The forward averaged 17.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.6 steals per game in their campaign in the All-Filipino Conference, meriting a call-up to the national team.
Against Saudi Arabia, Oftana made two of three shots for six points, adding a block to his line. He was plus-14 on his time on the floor.
For Pingris, what made Oftana stand out was his effort on the defensive end -- the part of the game that "Pinoy Sakuragi" treasures most.
"Sinabi ko kay Daddy Vic kanina, 'Dad, 'yung time na binigay sa kanya, but nakita mo 'yung defense niya, 'yung gustong-gusto niyang maglaro'," said Pingris, referring to his father-in-law, Vic Sotto.
"Sabi ko, ito 'yung parang magiging role player na, tapos umiiskor. What if 'pag binigyan pa talaga siya ng playing time?" he added. "Gusto ko siya talagang maglaro, dahil grabe 'yung defense niya."
This isn't Oftana's first stint with Gilas. He was previously called up to the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers by former coach Tab Baldwin in 2021. With the likes of Pingris taking note of his performance, more call-ups appear to be on the horizon.
While he was most impressed with Oftana, Pingris in general was pleased with the performance of Gilas. The national team rebounded from a slim 85-81 loss to Lebanon in their previous game in the qualifiers, and recovered from a slow start to put on a show.
Jordan Clarkson led the way for the squad with 23 points, six assists and five rebounds, and Kai Sotto put up a double-double.
"Focus lang," Pingris said when asked what advice he can give the young Gilas group. "Focus sila, palakas sila ng katawan… Kailangan kung ano 'yung tinuturo ni coach, gawin lang nila. Tapos magpalakas lang talaga ng katawan. Kailangan maglaro ka diyan ng may puso. Kumbaga, give your best, 100%."