For 18 years, Mike Phillips was in the U.S. He grew up an American. He learned to play ball as an American.
In 2019, the 6-foot-8 big finally turned his attention to the other half of his heritage. First, committing to De La Salle University, then wasting no time going to the Philippines to get on with the adjustment period.
Fast forward three years, as well as one UAAP season under his belt, and it’s safe to say Phillips can call himself Filipino, indeed.
“The language barrier was the first challenge, of course. But my teammates, laking tulong nila sa akin,” he shared, a month after helping the Green Archers barge back into the semifinals, while also being named into the Mythical Team.
“I’m really, really grateful to them. If I were to do this on my own, ‘di ko kaya.”
Yes, he’s talking Tagalog. And speaking it pretty well, in fact.
“I learned Tagalog because I wanted to immerse in the culture. I wanted to get to know my teammates and the community I’m fighting for, so I had to talk to them in their language,” he expressed, also adding that he went right into learning Tagalog once he arrived in Manila.
“It’s really a passion of mine.”
Traditionally, Fil-foreigners don’t get in too deep with Tagalog, even if they’ve been living in the Philippines for more than a decade. Jimmy Alapag is a Philippine basketball legend, and he understands the local language pretty well. Using it, however, is another matter altogether.
That’s why the extra effort put forth by La Salle’s present and future man in the middle is a pleasant surprise. And it’s living proof to his favorite phrase of Tagalog.
“Gawan ng paraan,” he answered, with a big smile, when asked about his go-to word/s in the local language. “I think that really resembles the Filipino people and their spirit. No matter gaano kahirap, gawan ng paraan.”
And because of his extra effort, Phillips endeared himself to his La Salle teammates and the Taft Ave. community. In particular, he found mentors in Justine Baltazar and Mark Nonoy, as well as a new support system in team manager Raffy Villavicencio and his family.
“What really bonded us was the Tagalog jokes. Especially the corny pick-up lines,” he quipped.
“If I didn’t know Tagalog, I’d miss out on many jokes!”
Give us a pick-up line, then!
“Keyboard ka ba?” “Bakit?” “Kasi,type kita!”
Seriously, though, the now-20-year-old is adamant that thanks to talking Tagalog, he proved himself to La Salle much quicker than Fil-fors usually do. Because he was speaking the local language, teammates who came from provinces such as Nonoy (Iloilo) and Baltazar (Pampanga) didn’t have a tough time connecting with him.
“It really helped me. Me, I was an outsider. I’m a foreigner and I’m coming into their team,” he remarked.
“So I wanted to show them we’re on the same level. I wanted to show them I appreciate you, I appreciate your background.”
Alongside teaching Tagalog, Baltazar had apparently shown a thing or two about being a leader to Phillips. And that’s what the latter wants to put on full display for his remaining four years of eligibility for the green and white.
“I definitely wanna be more of a leader.
“I got a lot of that coming from Balti, he really showed me how to mold a team,” stated Phillips. “Right now, we’re a young team. That gives us more opportunity to jell together, and come together to get that dynasty we want, that system that’ll last for many years.”
With Mike Phillips standing strong as a pillar, La Salle looks like a force to reckon with for the foreseeable future. And with the Tagalog-talking Fil-Am showing the way, the Green Archers can rest assured in having a leader that gets them – who’ll even give them a pick-up line, in fluent Tagalog, as a picker-upper.