Chris Ross has long coveted a shot at representing the Philippines internationally, but his ineligibility to play in FIBA-sanctioned tournaments has always been the barrier keeping him on the outside looking in.
A door finally opened last week when new Gilas coach Tim Cone added him to the 15-man pool for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, where relaxed rules allow players like Ross to suit up for their country despite failing to secure a local passport before turning 16.
"It's a blessing. I've expressed my feelings multiple times [about playing] for the national team and it's just an honor to just have my name with those 14 guys and I won't take it for granted," Ross said on Sunday.
"My mom called me when she found out and she was so happy, she cried. It's just a great feeling, especially my family members out here who have been supporting me throughout my whole career. They really wanted to see me suit up for the national team, at least be on the pool. It's just a great feeling all around."
Being named to the pool came as a pleasant shock to Ross, who was included in Yeng Guiao's own list for the biennial meet before the coach stepped down after the Philippines' dismal FIBA World Cup showing.
"I'm forever grateful for everyone that was involved in putting me on the pool. I heard Coach Yeng had me in his initial 30-man pool and I'm thankful to Coach Yeng. Now with Coach Tim with [his] 15-man pool, I'm thankful to Coach Tim. The work starts now. Just my name being in that 15-man pool is such as a blessing," said Ross.
Ross said he is focused on making the final cut by learning Cone's system in a short span of time.
"I've played in so many systems in my career, in my life that it shouldn't be hard to pick up," he said. "I've played against those guys so many times and I'm really a student of the game."
"I watch so much film in my home in my down time. Basketball is kind of my life so I watch a lot of film. I pretty much know what all 11 teams in the PBA are running so it shouldn't be hard for me to pick it up, especially with someone like Coach Tim who's going to teach. It's going to be an uphill battle for me to make the team, but I'm up for the challenge."
Once he hurdles that, Ross can finally help the Philippines maintain its regional dominance on its home soil.
"We're going to be here in our own country and we have to put on a good show. Just try to bounce back from the World Cup. I know the level of competition won't be the same but it's a tournament that we must win and all the pressure is on us. There are other teams that are getting better and getting closer but hopefully we can get the chemistry we need and build up until the tournament starts and we can win and play up to our potential," he said.