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Gilas’ Class of ’07 and the Olympic basketball dream

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More than eight years ago, the Chot Reyes-mentored Philippine National Basketball Team told his players to focus on one date: 8-8-8.

It was the start (August 8, 2008) of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and Reyes kept telling his boys to keep their eyes on that ultimate goal.

The team trained for over a year, getting exposure in Las Vegas, Carson City, Thailand, West Asia, and Belgrade, although the team fell short in the 2007 FIBA Asia Championship after bowing out of the first round.

With three members of that squad, Dondon Hontiveros, Gabe Norwood, and Asi Taulava, all becoming part of the Gilas final 12, more than 8 years later, all get another shot at doing the same; vying for a slot in the Olympic basketball tournaments.

Taulava alone has been part of many national teams in the past, and he considers this stint the biggest and most important of all those chances.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Gilas' Class of '07 and the Olympic basketball dream    “Yes, especially with the pool we have and the system that we have. Hopefully we can keep it that way. If we can get to FIBA Asia as a complete team, it is a whole different ball game,” he said.

The evergreen center never envisioned himself to be in this situation, given his age and how his career has been winding down, yet here he is today, having another shot to play in the grandest stage of sports.

His motivation is quite simple; He wants to make a statement.

“Who in their craziest dreams would have thought at 42, me at 42 will still be competing and not just in the PBA, but the final 12 of the national team. I think I was more motivated and fired up now than my first year in 2002. Because now I want to make a statement and erase all those ghosts. We have a very good chance,” Taulava said.

Now he gets more help, with the entry of Andray Blatche and a handful of athletic and versatile players.

Norwood’s 2007 appearance was special. It was the first time he donned the colors of the Philippine national team and was fresh from a US NCAA stint with George Mason University.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Gilas' Class of '07 and the Olympic basketball dream    That 2007 FIBA Asia Championship appearance basically opened the gates for his career opportunities here.

Now a PBA champion and a many-time member of the national team, Norwood says being part of Gilas 3 is an opportunity he cannot just let slip away.

“It is overwhelming to be able to represent the country one time, but we have this opportunity again to get us to the Olympics is an awesome experience and hopefully I can take my experiences from 2007 and I apply it here,” Norwood shared.

“That is the approach we have to take. Who knows if we will have this chance again as individual players or as a unit. We have to embrace it and enjoy the whole experience,” he added.

Hontiveros thinks he shouldn’t even be here at the moment. In this era where he isn’t getting any younger, he’s just happy to be still be able to play.

But an opportunity he cannot let pass came across, and he quickly took advantage.

Hontiveros knows the sacrifice that comes along, but he does not mind, as he knows time isn’t on his side.

“Malaking sacrifice. Itong time na to I should be with my family but this opportunity na binigay sa akin, I will make the most out of it. Kung makapunta ng Olympics then it will be all worth it,” Hontiveros shared.

“Before you retire, you have a chance of making it special with this kind of group and the system na ini-implement ni Coach Tab. You have guys who are versatile and can play multiple positions. Malaking bagay sa akin ‘to, so I will just give my best and make you guys proud.”

Through the course of their respective basketball careers, Hontiveros, Norwood, and Taulava have all achieved milestones.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Gilas' Class of '07 and the Olympic basketball dream    Taulava was hailed MVP of the ABL in 2013, leading the San Miguel Beermen to the title while staging a successful return in the PBA.

Hontiveros kept winning titles with PBA clubs, showing that his firepower from long range is invaluable to any team.

Norwood was part of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship team, which made it to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.

The roads of the three stalwarts intersect again, and they now have another chance to fulfill the Olympic dream that has been in their minds since 2007.

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