A stint with the national team for an international tournament was the last thing that Chris Tiu expected at this stage in his career.
He had to deal with the news quickly, though. Coach Yeng Guiao officially named the 32-year-old guard as one of six Rain or Shine players who will suit up for the Philippines in the 2018 Asian Games men’s basketball tournament in Indonesia.
“I thought my last stint with Gilas in 2012 would be my last,” Tiu told media during a practice backed by Smart at the Meralco Gym. “I definitely see it as a blessing, especially towards this stage of my career.”
Tiu had reason to believe that he wouldn’t don the tri-colors again. After captaining Gilas 1.0, which was composed of standouts who finished their collegiate careers, he was never called up to play for the country again.
A report from Spin.PH’s Gerry Ramos even indicated that he was almost about to wrap up his professional career after the recently-concluded Commissioner’s Cup.
But after recording what he calls the “best PBA season” of his life so far, coupled with encouraging talks with Rain or Shine management and his inner circle, Tiu is glad that he stayed on.
“I was convinced by some people close to my heart, as well as the owners of Rain or Shine, to stay on and to help the team. I guess they felt I still had some gas left in the tank and they kinda reminded me that being able to play competitive basketball is an opportunity not given to everybody and definitely can be used for so many positive things,” he said.
The former Blue Eagle has been red-hot in the past two conferences. His run with the Elasto Painters in this season’s Philippine Cup saw him top the squad in scoring, assists and three-point percentage while logging the PBA’s fourth best player efficiency rating and fifth-best offensive rating.
Last conference, Tiu continued his stellar play by pacing the squad once more from downtown and leading them on offense (5.3 assists per game).
He had experience at the point guard position to thank, of course.
“Before I was playing the two position under coach Rajko Toroman in Gilas 1.0. When I joined Rain or Shine, coach Yeng made me play the point guard position together with Paul Lee. It definitely changed my game a bit. I handled the ball more, I brought down the ball more,” Tiu explained.
“It’s different. You make so many more decisions that affect the team. I think I developed new skills,” he added.
Despite his improved feel for the game at the point guard spot, Tiu still thinks that his natural position is at shooting guard and even owed his renaissance to coach Caloy Garcia’s willingness to place him as a secondary ball-handler on offense at the two-spot.
“I think one of the reasons I’ve been relatively successful this last year in the PBA is because coach Caloy [Garcia] has made me play of the two. He usually uses me alongside Gabe [Norwood] and Maverick Ahanmisi and other point guards, so it kinda allows me to save some energy and focus more on scoring rather than bringing down the ball and setting up plays,” bared Tiu.
“I guess it comes with age also. You’re doing your skill work every single day again and again. I think at this stage when I’m 33 compared to when I was 25, maybe I’m a little bit slower or not as active as before, but I feel like experience-wise and in terms of skill, I’ve matured a little bit more,” he continued.
Tiu will see action in the backcourt alongside NorthPort’s Stanley Pringle, Magnolia’s Paul Lee, and teammates Maverick Ahanmisi and James Yap.
He’s not making any guarantees about the team’s prospective performance in the Asian Games, but he’s been pretty optimistic about their progress so far.
“They’ve showed that they have really high basketball IQ and they pick up the pace really quickly. In terms of offense, I think everybody is starting to get familiar with coach Yeng’s system. Now I think the challenge is how to execute during the real game. It’s different playing against each other and executing during practice from when it’s the actual game, when mistakes are high, there’s pressure, when opponents are bigger and more experienced. It’s different,” Tiu said.
“We’ll just have to work on what we have. No excuses. We’ll do everything possible, coach Yeng and the management is doing everything that they can to prepare this team as best as they can, we’re doing our best as players to stay healthy and get in shape as fast as we can. Hopefully, we’ll give the Philippines to cheer and support the national team.”