CALAMBA - Back in 2018, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas named their 23 for 2023, a list of young players who could potentially be part of the Gilas Pilipinas squad for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. The youngest in the group, Kai Sotto and Carl Tamayo, were then both only 16 years of age.
Three years later, Tamayo's gut told him that he needed to prepare himself physically as he may soon get the call to join the Gilas Pilipinas Men training pool. He prepared as best as he could even with the limitations of the current times and it paid off.
Being part of the 23 for 2023 list, he knew that he'll get an opportunity to compete for a national team spot at some point in the future. This chance, however, came sooner than he expected.
"When I learned that the pool with not have PBA players, I started preparing myself in case I get called up but I wasn't expecting anything," Tamayo said in Filipino. "When I didn't receive the call, I went home to the province because I hadn't seen my family for a long time."
Unfortunately, the training pool was not able to see action as the competitions were postponed.
"Then for the next bubble, coach Sandy (Arespacochaga) called to invite me," the young forward said.
After initial hesitation, it was an old mentor who acted as the voice of reason to make Tamayo realize that this was an opportunity that he can't pass up on.
"At first, I was hesitant because I didn't see my family for a year and I was home for only a month. I wanted to spend more time with them but coach Goldwin (Monteverde) talked to me and told me it's a big opportunity for me," Tamayo said. "My family will always be there. I can just go back home after the bubble and my family was also pushing me to do it because it was what's best for my career."
Upon joining the camp, Tamayo quickly realized how lucky he was to be a part of it. Basketball players outside the bubble had to settle for individual or small group training while Gilas Pilipinas Men got to practice and scrimmage as a full squad. The biggest advantage in joining this training camp is for Tamayo to feel what it's like as a small forward. While he's had to be a center or a power forward all his life because of his size, he knows learning how to play at the three-spot could really set him apart.
"Here, I play as a three and sometimes a four. I'm learning how to execute as a small forward, how to read the court, I also get to practice my decision-making. I realized it was a really good decision because I get to learn how to play international basketball under coach Tab (Baldwin)," he shared.
At 6-foot-7, Tamayo is big enough to play as a power forward or even a center for a small team in the pros but he has the tools to play as a small forward, which makes him a rarity in the local scene.
"Even though my height is for a big man, I've always trained on how to be a three with my ball-handling and shooting. It's great for me because I get to go up against taller players. In high school, I was taller than everyone so I had to play as a center," Tamayo said.
"Coach Goldwin really pushed me to do extra work when I was in high school. Before I'd go to class, I worked out with him for my shooting and dribbling. After three years, I started developing my outside game. I became confident with my dribbling and my jump shots. Now I'm focusing on reading plays as a three."
Tamayo admitted that he had no idea what all the extra training was for back then but his coach asked him to do it so he followed. Now, he's even more thankful to his high school mentor for investing the time and energy that opened the door for him to be one of the youngest members of the national team.
"Actually when we were doing it, I had no idea what it was for because I was still young. Now I'm starting to realize that it was an investment for my future. I don't think I would have been invited here even with my size if I didn't know how to shoot or dribble."
Another big positive in his presence in the Gilas training bubble is being around teachers and leaders who want nothing else but to help Tamayo develop as much as he could in a short amount of time. While they're preparing for the games ahead, the pool also knows the work they are putting in is an early investment for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup that the Philippines is co-hosting with Japan and Indonesia.
All the coaches and the veterans of the system do their best to make sure everyone's on the same page.
"Every day we do viewing to focus on the details. Sometimes the coaches do one-on-ones with us to really show us where we commit our mistakes. They're so patient with us not just on the court but they even show us on video so we can really correct our mistakes," Tamayo said.
"The veterans have been very helpful, especially Mike (Nieto), who's really a leader. I appreciate them because they're trying their best to help us improve as a person and as a player for me to be able to help out the team."
With barely two weeks before the final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, Tamayo is excited to fulfill a goal he has set for himself as a youngster.
"I'm excited because this has always been my main goal: to play for the Philippine national team," he closed. "I've been preparing for this opportunity for a long time so I'm hoping that I can contribute on the floor if coach Tab gives me an opportunity."