MANILA, Philippines - Stars come and go in college basketball with every player only given five years to show their worth -- and to prove they are capable of playing in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Asia’s first play-for-pay league.
While players might be excited to leave the college scene by then to play pro, a marquee player using up his eligibility years is the thing that most college basketball coaches dread.
San Sebastian College-Recoletos’ do-it-all forward Calvin Abueva is one such star player. Abueva is set to jump to the pro league -- immediately -- after his team failed to make the finals of the 88th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) season. He is scheduled to suit up for his new professional team, the Alaska Aces, on Friday, October 19.
The reigning league Most Valuable Player (MVP) has bid goodbye to the Stags and to NCAA. So, what will the Golden Stags’ life be like without a player of the same caliber like the athletic Abueva?
Former Golden Stags mentor Topex Robinson, who knew that Abueva would be on his way out this season when he accepted San Sebastian’s head coaching job last year, said he had already prepared the Recto-based squad to a life without the Pampanga-born player.
Robinson resigned as the Stags' coach early in the second round of the season to concentrate more on his post as one of Alaska mentor Luigi Trillo's assistants -- but has remained as the team's consultant.
A realistic Robinson said next year will be an opportunity for other players to step up.
“It is not a permanent loss and the Stags [have been] prepared for that since the start of the season. They want to improve as a team and not just rely on one player," Robinson told Rappler.
"I know Calvin’s shoes will be big to fill up by one player. And I don’t want to put pressure on the others that he will be the one to fill in Calvin’s shoes.”
Robinson said Ian Sangalang will be the designated King Stag next season once Abueva and and high-scoring swingman Ronald Pascual, who also used up his playing years, leave the team.
“The players have to mature as a team. It will be a collective effort. They still have Ian (Sanggalang) next year and a bunch of players that can get the job done.”
Abueva the star
Abueva, for his part, is thankful for his stint with the Golden Stags.
“I’ve learned a lot of things from my coaches (Robinson and Turo Valezona). I was part of the champion team during my rookie year, then I won the MVP last season. Too bad I lost it this year,” he said.
Abueva’s absence next year would translate into the Golden Stags missing his per game averages of 19.7 points, 17.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.6 blocks and 3.0 steals based on unofficial first round statistics.
The 6-foot-3 Abueva, known for his tenacity and fierce defensive playing skills, was the second overall pick in this year's annual PBA Rookie Draft by Alaska as the Aces' coaching staff was impressed with the way he played in the ongoing NCAA senior’s basketball tournament and during the three-day agility and biometrics camp held by the pro league before draft day.
“A lot of things changed from the way I played in Pampanga. Pero noon, pa all-out na ako when it comes to playing. Offense or defense, lalo na sa rebounding, maasahan ako ng team ko,” said Abueva.
The Stags was already a veteran team when Robinson took over the coaching job from Valenzona, his former mentor when he played for the Recto-based dribblers back in the mid 90s.
Abueva was an unknown rookie when then coach Ato Agustin guided San Sebastian to the title in the 2009 season. He had to play behind the shadows of then Finals MVP Jimbo Aquino but slowly made his own mark and had a breakout year in 2011 where he won the NCAA regular season MVP award and guided the Stags to a 16-2 record en route to another finals meeting with eventual champion San Beda.
Though Abueva failed to lead San Sebastian to the NCAA crown last year as well as this year, he powered the Stags in sweeping past University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and the Greg Slaughter-bannered Ateneo Blue Eagles in the finals of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) for the national crown.
Abueva, aside from piling up the points, is a known rebounding demon but making his teammates involve offensively opens up a new side of his game.
‘‘At times they make him (Abueva) bring the ball down the court, that’s one reason he’s been having lots of assists. It’s also a good thing for him, to have that kind of quality in his game. It is an added tool up in his arsenal,” added Robinson.
Robinson has nothing but praises for his former player. ‘‘Calvin is a spectacular player and he always play with a sense of urgency. He has really earned his spot here in the league.”
Looking to the rookies
Pascual and Sangalang, Abueva’s teammates, were also glad for the chance of playing with him in the NCAA.
“Masaya na malungkot, I’m glad we became teammates. He is a great player and things are much easier for us when he’s inside the court. He is not only an offensive threat but he is a hard-nosed defender who can pick up rebounds,” said Pascual.
“He will be a great loss for us. It is sad that he will be graduating but that’s how life goes in the NCAA,” Sangalang said. “Hindi lang siya sa opensa maaasahan, pati sa depensa at rebounds din.”
Sangalang added that Abueva’s relationship with his teammates goes beyond the basketball court. “We’re both Kapampangan and we became friends since we’ve met. Magkaibigan at magkasama kami hanggang sa labas ng basketball court.
Both believe that the Stags remain a contender next season even without Abueva.
“Wala na kami ni Calvin next year so it is up to the rookies to step up. Ian and Jovit (Dela Cruz) ang ilan sa mga aasahan na mga players next year,” said Pascual, who skipped this year’s PBA rookie draft because of an injury and will play for one more year with the NLEX Road Warriors in the PBA D-League.
Sangalang said there are still a number of players who can make an impact next season.
“May mga papalit din sa position ni Calvin, although mahirap punuan position niya. Kailangan na mag step up ang ibang mga players namin next season lalo na ang mga rookies." he said. “Our rookies this season and those who will come in next year only need to believe in themselves. They need to be confident and maturity so we can still be a contender next season." - Rappler.com