Former UE Red Warriors cager dribbles for Spain
BARCELONA, Spain - Former University of the East Red Warriors varsity Ruben Zaballa continue to pursue his passion for basketball as he plays for one of two teams which will represent Spain in the semifinals and finals of the 3x3 FIBA World Tour in Istanbul, Turkey this October.
The Barcelona-based player is the only Filipino among the 18 elite players who competed during the elimination rounds in Spain.
He was one of four players chosen to represent Barcelona, which competed alongside Malaga, another winning Spanish team.
"I'm honored to be one of the representatives of Team Spain in Lugano, Switzerland. Yung feeling ko very overwhelming. I'm the only Asian to be there at alam naman nating lahat na second to the best basketball team in the world ang Spain so it’s a huge achievement as a Filipino," he said.
His ninth-time Most Valuable Player award in Filipino basketball leagues in Barcelona and his sixth-time MVP in Ambassador’s Cup, a tournament for Filipinos in Spain, have earned him the respect of fellow kababayans. However, playing as shooting guard for Catalan team Barça B did not give him similar court advantage.
"Halos tatlong buwan nila akong hindi kinakausap," he said. He said some players, who have been basketball club members since they were young, could not accept that an outsider, the only Filipino in the team, would be given the same opportunity.
"Buti na lang yung isa sa mga players fan ni Manny Pacquaio," he said. The Pacman magic helped him to get along with him.
He also received racist comments every time he played. "You wanted to prove them wrong. Nagpapasalamat din ako kasi nagsilbi siyang motivation," Zaballa said.
He became player of the year of Copa de Catalunya in 2010, and youth of different nationalities also requested him to put up a training camp and teach them his tricks.
Zaballa also wowed Kobe Bryant when the NBA star served as his coach during the 2010 House of Hoops in Barcelona. Upon knowing he was Filipino, Kobe greeted him with 'Pacquiao, Pacquiao'.
"Sa mga kababayan natin, just believe in yourself. Kung gusto nyong maging part ng big event, nothing is impossible. Kasi tayo likas na magagaling, so yun lang determination and trust in God.”
Zaballa, who once played with James Yap and competed against Gilas Pilipinas players LA Tenorio and Gary David, is also happy that finally, the Philippine national team made it again to the finals. He hopes, together with the Filipino community, to meet them personally and see them make the country proud once more in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.