CALAMBA, Laguna - Even before he debuted in the PBA, Moala Tautuaa already proved he's more than willing to represent the Philippines on the international stage.
Right before the 2015 PBA Draft, Tautuaa joined the Gilas Pilipinas pool led by coach Tab Baldwin as they competed in a pocket tournament in Estonia. The nationals were then preparing for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship with a spot in the Rio Olympics on the line.
From the very start, however, Tautuaa knew he wouldn't be part of the final squad.
Because he was unable to secure a Philippine passport before turning 16, Tautuaa could only play for Gilas as a naturalized player, a slot then occupied by Andray Blatche. The former NBA player's absence in that year's Jones Cup gave Tautuaa another taste of being in the national team, but it was short and sweet.
Now entering his sixth season as a pro, the San Miguel center is thankful that 3x3 has given him an avenue to play as a Filipino, with no limitations and no added pressure.
"I love it because there's no added pressure of being that guy filling that one spot," remarked Tautuaa, "There's usually enormous pressure on any player taking the naturalized spot. Because there are so many talented Filipino basketball players who were not able to get their passports in time, selecting just one to join the national team is always a big discussion."
"Here, we're all on the same level. Everyone is expected to do a little bit of everything. It's not about just giving the ball to me and expecting me to do something with it. All of us are together," he continued.
Tautuaa was a natural pick to represent the country in the upcoming FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament as he was part of the team that won gold in the last Southeast Asian Games when the sport debuted as an official event.
A year and a half since celebrating that championship with teammates Chris Newsome, Jason Perkins, and CJ Perez, he has come a long way from being clueless about this variation of basketball.
"At the beginning, I didn't even know what 3x3 was," admitted the 6-foot-8 Fil-Tongan, "I just saw it on Twitter, saw that my name kept popping up. Why I got picked? I'm not sure, but maybe they needed someone strong with a little bit of versatility. 3x3 is not just about one style of basketball."
"You can't just be fast, you also have to be strong. You can't just be strong, you also need to shoot or post up. I feel I can dabble with all those areas, not at the highest level, but good enough to where the defense will respect me wherever I am on the floor. Maybe that was what made me a good candidate for 3x3," he added.
By taking the leap into uncharted territory, Tautuaa got the experience he had been hoping for since 2015: finally, he was officially part of Gilas Pilipinas.
Even better, he was playing at home, in front of a loud and proud crowd.
"Playing at the Southeast Asian Games was great. The fans were out there cheering for us and that's the no. 1 part. When we put our Philippine jerseys on, it's for the fans. We play for them. We're representing who we are as a people," he expressed. "Being out there for our people and winning at that level, it doesn't get much better than that."
Tautuaa is wrong, though. It could get better than that.
In fact, if everything falls into place for him and his team this month, it would get much, much better than that.
"I received a two-part text message to invite me to the team," narrated Tautuaa. "And before I even received the second part of the invitation, I already replied that I wanted to come."
Six years ago, Tautuaa was just helping Gilas Pilipinas, in any way he could, prepare for a shot at the Rio Olympics. Now, he gets his own shot at qualifying for the biggest sporting event on the planet.