It has been seven long years since Santi Santillan last donned the national team colors.
And the 25-year-old is relishing every moment of it.
“Madaming basketbolista ang gustong maglaro sa Pilipinas. Sobrang grateful ko kayla Boss Al [Panlilio] at sa SBP,” said Santillan.
“Talagang bibigay ko ‘yung 100-percent ko para dito sa Gilas.”
Back in 2014, Santillan — who was still in his sophomore year with University of the Visayas — got a call-up for Gilas Youth in a Cebuano-filled team for the 2014 FIBA Asia Under-18 Championship.
Santillan, a native of Lapu-Lapu City, joined fellow Cebuanos Paul Desiderio and Dave Yu on the team coached by Jamike Jarin.
The 6-foot-5 banger showed promise, averaging 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 points, and 1.2 assists in Gilas Youth’s fifth-place finish in the continental meet. It included a spectacular 11-rebound outing against Japan to close out their campaign.
However, it would take long for Santillan to get another call-up.
Santillan went on to play two years with La Salle before going full-time in 3×3.
“Siyempre, kapag naglalaro ka sa 3×3, may chance ka na makalaban ‘yung best of the best sa ibang bansa. Kaya grabe ‘yung commitment ko dati,” said Santillan, who besides dominating the domestic league Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3×3 also competed in three Masters tournaments and a Challenger.
Santillan, along with good pal Alvin Pasaol, rose through the local rankings, eventually making it to the top 10.
But when the country made it to the FIBA 3×3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament, his spot was not assured. National teams can only field two reinforcements in the global meet that has three tickets to Tokyo at stake.
Still, Santillan did not hesitate to heed the country’s call.
“Born-ready naman tayo eh. Kung anuman ang desisyon nila, walang samaan ng loob dahil para sa Pilipinas naman ito,” he said.
“Kung ma-line up, alam ko naman magiging ‘yung role ko sa team — depensa ng todo. Kung hindi man ma-line up, ready ako maging cheerleader.”
Early Tuesday morning, Santillan received the good news that he will be one of the four players that will play in Graz, Austria.
It was a moment seven years in the making. And just as he always says, he is born ready for it.