After getting cut from the Philippines’ Asian Games lineup last August, Ricci Rivero finds himself contending for a spot with the national team once more.
The University of the Philippines transferee was one of two non-pros — along with Ateneo’s Kai Sotto — named in head coach Yeng Guiao’s 20-man pool for the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
He certainly didn’t waste time making a good impression in the team’s practice session set up by Smart on Monday at the Meralco Gym.
“If you look at them, playing with veterans and professionals, ‘di mo mahahalatang cadets sila. You don’t even notice that they’re five, six years younger than the rest of the guys. I think that’s how mature and developed their games are. Of course, there’s still a lot of upside to it. But today’s the first day, so they will keep on improving and keep on getting better from here on,” Guiao said of the young guns.
Rivero, for his part, was actually surprised that he even got the call-up in the first place.
“Kahit naman sabihin na sobrang gusto niya ‘ko, kung pwede niya naman gawin na ‘Sorry, seniors lang na team ‘to, college ka pa lang’ [gagawin niya], pero the fact na sinama niya pa rin kami, andun pa rin ‘yung trust niya and siguro meron pa siyang nakikitang ‘Itong batang ‘to pwede pang matuto,’” he opened.
A tryout with the national team means that Rivero also has a chance to pick Guiao’s brain again. The 6-foot-1 guard, who was even offered a pass to practice with the NLEX Road Warriors in the PBA, heaped praise on his mentor and shed light on his lively yet stern and hands-on demeanor as a coach.
“Sobrang equal siya na coach. Kapag may alam siya na kailangang ayusin na specific about a player, siya mismo kakausap. Na-experience ko na ‘yan before kasi kinausap na rin niya ako before nung Asian [Games] pool tryouts,” Rivero explained.
“Knowing coach Yeng, alam natin na he’s strict pero hindi pala. Minsan laughtrip on the court, pero maiintindihan mo ‘yung sinasabi niya. Hindi siya parang ‘Coach ako eh.’”
But Guiao isn’t the only coach he gets to work with. There’s also prospective teammate Alex Cabagnot, who currently serves as a skills coach with the UP Fighting Maroons in the UAAP.
The two have worked closely with the Diliman-based squad while Rivero serves his redshirt year. Just like Guiao, Cabagnot was also described as a light presence to be around with.
This automatically made the seven-time PBA champion his favorite teammate so far.
“Kahit coach ko siya, even though andun ‘yung player-coach boundaries namin, para siyang si coach Yeng na sobrang barkada type. Nakasama ko na rin si coach Alex off the court, sobrang saya kasama,” he shared.
Meanwhile, Cabagnot expressed his support for the pool’s lone collegiate player and even lent a hand during practices to bolster the kid’s chances of making it in the final lineup.
“In scrimmages, I sub myself out for him so he could get some reps him. Syempre naman ‘di lang siya kasaling-pusa dito. He’s also fighting for a position too so I want him to get equal chances in fighting for that position,” he said.
The former Finals MVP also lauded his work ethic and expressed his excitement to see Rivero make bigger leaps in the future.
“No matter what happens in Gilas, I’m still here for his improvement. I can’t wait to be part of his improvement and his success. But that’s just gonna be minor because he’s hardworking. His work ethic is on another level. I just wish him the best. I always tell him and (future UP teammate) Juan (Gomez de Liano) that they’re gonna be perennial all-stars in the PBA soon enough,” said Cabagnot.
Rivero will be vying to make the backcourt against Cabagnot, Jayson Castro, LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, Paul Lee, Marcio Lassiter and Matthew Wright.