MANILA, Philippines — For years many considered Marc Pingris as the "puso" or heart of Gilas Pilipinas, up there with the team's now legend of a former captain Jimmy Alapag.
But now, in 2017, the 35-year-old veteran is ready to hand over the reins to a worthy successor: Calvin Abueva.
"Siya 'yung puso ng Gilas ngayon, si Calvin (He's the heart of Gilas now)," Pingris said Wednesday, January 25, 3 days after Abueva was named to this year's Philippine national team pool once again.
Having journeyed together to the FIBA Asia Championship silver medal two years ago, Pingris expects to see Abueva become the most vocal leader for Gilas 5.0 as they plow through one tournament after another in the coming years to hopefully reach the 2019 FIBA World Cup again and maybe even the 2020 Olympics.
"Siya 'yung gusto kong maging vocal sa kanila dahil siya 'yung magbibigay ng energy sa team ngayon e," Pingris said. "'Wag siyang mahiyang kausapin 'yung mga beterano, mga rookie dahil alam ko siya talaga ang magdadala."
(I want him to be more vocal because he will be the one to give energy to the team now. He shouldn't be embarrassed to talk to the veterans or the rookies because I know he will carry the team.)
Abueva, 28, is again part of the now 25-man pool of Chot Reyes – after Troy Rosario was added on Tuesday – and is also among the more experienced returnees together with Jayson Castro, June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Paul Lee, and Terrence Romeo.
The Alaska Aces forward, also considered his mother ball club's energizer bunny, showcased his wares under coach Tab Baldwin, hustling and rebounding against some of Asia's biggest despite his 6-foot-5 listed height.
Abueva's willingness to play the role of enforcer on any team he's on makes him the embodiment of the Filipino basketball player you would commonly witness even in barangay leagues – limited in height but audacious.
Abueva will be among a group of young, versatile forwards pegged to form the core of Gilas and grow in coming years.
"Mga bata tsaka matatangkad din. Mga big guys nila tumitira sa labas," Pingris shared his assessment of the pool, though noting speed remains an advantage to Filipinos.
(They're young and tall. They've got big guys who can shoot from the outside.)
"Magkakaroon ng magandang defense 'to dahil matatangkad na. Dati kulang kami, June Mar, Blatche, and Japeth lang. At least ngayon mas madadagdagan ng matatangkad, mas marami dedepensa."
(Defense will improve because they're bigger now. Before, it was only me with June Mar, Blatche, and Japeth. At least there are taller guys so more players can defend.)
Pingris, who has served flag and country since at least the 2003 Southeast Asian Games, was among those Reyes spoke with prior to the pool's announcement as the coach explained the choice to go younger – a decision Pingris agrees with.
"It's time naman para bigyan natin ng opportunity 'yung mga bata para makapaglaro rin at suportahan," the Star Hotshots forward said.
(It's time to give opportunity for the young players to play and to support them.)
"Maganda rin 'yung tine-train na nila 'yung mga bata ngayon kasi ganoon 'yung ginagawa ng ibang bansa." (It's good that they're training the young ones now because that's what other countries have been doing.)
Pingris will miss wearing his Pilipinas jersey. But he is more than willing to come in and talk to the rookies if invited and to help out in any way he can. He is walking away knowing this next batch of national team players will carry on what they've started.
Filipinos, on the other hand, will also miss the emboldened voice behind the Gilas battle cry of "Laban Pilipinas, puso!" after every huddle. At the very least, there is already a handpicked heir. Perhaps Abueva's booming voice will be heard next.
"Si Calvin talaga e. Siya pa lang talaga nakikita ko ngayon." (It's Calvin, really. He's the only one I see for now.) — Rappler.com