They've spent two months away from their families, locked inside the bubble in Clark, Pampanga. For 60 days—or more—they had this regular routine—hotel, practice facilities, playing venue. No one was allowed to leave the PBA bubble.
It’s the price they had to pay for the life they’ve chosen, the life of a PBA player, who made their sacrifice just to make this bubble tournament happen.
Two of those players who thrived inside the PBA Bubble were Raul Soyud of NLEX and Justin Chua of Phoenix Super LPG. Both of them have improved by leaps and bounds and it wasn’t surprising why these two players became candidates for the Most Improved Player award won by Prince Caperal of Barangay Ginebra.
Soyud, a vastly-improved forward, made his presence felt in the recent tournament by becoming the most efficient big man of the Road Warriors. The player who spent the past few years on the reserve list and couldn’t crack the line up, was finally given an opportunity to shine by head coach Yeng Guiao.
In the recent bubble, he averaged 10 points and 6.82 rebounds per game. As if these numbers were proof enough of his vast improvement, Soyud solidified it more when he became the tournament leader in field goal shooting, averaging 74-percent from the field, the best shooting percentage average in years.
Chua, on the other hand, is a lefty 6-foot-5 center, who has a decent shot from the perimeter. His offensive game became even noticeable when he averaged 13 points per game. But he was also a solid presence on both ends of the court and in fact went on to lead the shot blocking department averaging 1.7 blocks per game.
After spending months virtually from “prison,” these two players were finally released when the PBA bubble ended last week.
But it looks like they’re headed in another bubble-type of atmosphere as they were among the few PBA players invited to join the Gilas Pilipinas pool training in Calamba, Laguna.
Just when they thought they could finally spend more time with their families, these players, along with several other fellow PBA cagers – Kiefer Ravena of NLEX, Roger Pogoy and Troy Rosario of TNT, and CJ Perez of Terrafirma – got a call to join the Gilas Pilipinas training camp in Calamba.
For flag and country, these players will again make the ultimate sacrifice. Chua will finally get the chance of playing in an international tournament. In 2011, he was a reserve player in the national team when the Filipinos competed in the Southeast Asian Games men’s basketball tournament.
For Soyud, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.
Guiao wasn’t surprised with the Gilas call up, but he was more surprised with the accelerated improvement of his ward.
“Kahit na pingagalitan mo, wala siyang reklamo. It’s just sheer determination on his part to get better. Somehow, at least nakatulong pala ‘yung mga mura ko sa kanya,” said Guiao, who added that several teams have also expressed interest in getting Soyud, but the fiery mentor was determined to keep his up-and-coming player and make him a part of his team’s future.
Chua and Soyud have come a long way and for flag and country, they don’t mind spending the next month back inside a “cell-like” Gilas Pilipinas Bubble training camp.
They’re willing to do it. Para sa Bayan!