La Salle's Mike Phillips turns his attention to another 'Redeem Team'

Philippines exact revenge on Cambodia to reclaim gold (1:22)

Philippines reclaim the SEA Games men's 5x5 basketball gold medal after defeating holders Cambodia in Tuesday's final. (1:22)

Mike Phillips still cannot believe he's a Southeast Asian Games gold medalist.

At just 21-years-old, he was part of the Gilas Pilipinas Men squad that lost to Cambodia in the initial phase of the regional tournament before avenging the loss when it mattered most.

And in the end, the youngest member of the Philippine national team was celebrating with his teammates and kababayans -- including his older brother Ben, who was a reserve on the team.

"What made it all the more special was he was with me every step of the way. We were roommates. We were being makulit together on the bus," Mike said. "When we won, I just looked over to him and we didn't even have to speak. We just knew."

Victory was even sweeter for the 6-foot-8 big as he didn't expect to be in Phnom Penh.

"Parang hanggang ngayon, 'di pa rin ako makapaniwalang I was even selected. I just give it all to God. That was just a blessing, how everything transpired," Phillips said, a week since the "Redeem Team" did what it was supposed to do. "When I first put on the jersey, it felt like I had the flag on me. I was like, 'Wow!' Again, until now, it still hasn't set in."

With injuries to June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar, Gilas needed a reliable big in its quest to reclaim the crown that was knocked off its head in last year's SEA Games. And what's 'Motor Mike' if not reliable?

Don't get used to him wearing blue.

"That's the only time I'll wear blue," said the third-year De La Salle University player, in reference to the blue-and-white of archrival Ateneo de Manila University.

Now that he's played his part on the Redeem Team, Phillips is eyeing the chance to do it again during the Green Archers' redemption tour.

"I hope so. We have that same feeling here, especially after not making it to the Final Four last season," he said. "Just like how Filipinos wanted that gold so bad, I know La Salle wants that trophy so bad as well."

Despite a fully-loaded lineup that featured him, Kevin Quiambao, Evan Nelle, and Schonny Winston, La Salle fell way short of expectations in UAAP Season 85. After a handful of titles in the preseason, they didn't even make the cut for the playoffs, their third time in the past four seasons.

That can't happen again. Especially now with Nelle on his last ride and Quiambao's a year wiser and stronger. Especially now that they have a younger, yet just as proven shot-caller in Topex Robinson. Especially now that they have a SEA Games gold medalist.

To make sure of that, the La Salle workhorse is looking to bring over to Taft Ave. the lessons he learned with Gilas. Talent can only do so much. Basketball remains a team game.

"It's all about relationships. We had so many veterans. Christian [Standhardinger], Chris Ross, coach Chot [Reyes], they really taught us just how important team-bonding is and knowing your why," he narrated. "Once we knew each other and why everybody wanted it so bad, we were able to mesh. I just think a team has to be as close as possible."

That was very much evident in the Philippines' loss to Cambodia in the initial phase, as they were out of sync from the get-go. Forged from that fire, however, they fused together into a singular unit with a singular goal.

Then in the final, it was the Cambodian side chock-full of naturalized player that didn't seem to be a team. That cannot be true for La Salle. Quiambao's all-around brilliance, Nelle's headiness, and Phillips' energy and effort can't be disconnected from each other. They're all pieces of one puzzle.

"We've been together for a long time, but we haven't really reached that level like we did in Gilas like we really knew each other deep. We said things we never did to anybody else. That really bonds you," he detailed. "With La Salle, we've been bonding so well. Coming back now, I just wanna help build those relationships more."

The Filipino-American's out to be one of the voices that keeps reminding the Green Archers of just that. Good thing then that he had already gone out of his way to understand, learn, and speak Tagalog.

"Kami ni kuya Ben, we wanna be more of the leaders and guide everybody," he said. "We wanna show everybody that even though we haven't won in the UAAP yet, we can show what it means to be a championship team."

Whether Gilas in SEA Games, TNT in the 2023 PBA Governors' Cup, or La Salle Lady Spikers in UAAP 85 women's volleyball, so-called "Redeem Teams" have defined 2023. Mike Phillips already knows a thing or two about those.

And it wouldn't be farfetched to see him be at the center of celebration for yet another -- this time, they're hoping green and white confetti will fall from way up high.