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Why fans now love Abueva

FRANCIS SANTIAGO
Special to OFW Pinoy Star
 
From villain to superhero.
That's the startling transformation of Calvin Abueva.  Gone are the days when fans would give the middle finger or jeer the enigmatic Alaska forward the moment he steps onto the court of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the country's top pro-league.
Now they cheer for Abueva for he produced a sterling performance for the Philippine basketball team, fondly called Gilas Pilipinas, during the Fiba Asia Championship. 
He was feted by the Alaska franchise as one of its 30 greatest players of all time during its 30th anniversary bash.
Abueva is not a dirty player but he does give that impression with his bravado on court, which makes him an easy target of loathe for fans of opposing PBA teams.
But his display of limitless energy, unrivaled intensity and hustle plays on both ends of the court when he donned the national colours for the first time turned thousands of haters into believers.
Even an international coach during their Fiba Asia build up couldn't hide his admiration for the 6-foot-2 bruiser.
“One guy that I specially love is Calvin (Abueva). I love him… he comes in and changes the game. A lot of people don’t see the little things he does and brings to the team, but his energy and size to be such a great rebounder, it’s hard,” New Zealand coach Kevin Braswell told the interaksyon.com.
“What he does so great is if he gets the defensive rebound, he pushes the ball. A lot of you cannot match up with that.”
Nicknamed “The Beast” for his monster-like performances and antics, Abueva, however, is unaware of the admiration he's getting from the fans and key sports figures as he's not active on social media.
“Hindi ko pa alam eh,” the Angeles, Pampanga native, 27, told Spin.ph. “Wala naman ako sa social media, kaya okay lang. Kung gusto nila ako, gusto nila; kung ayaw, ayaw.”
 
“Sa ngayon, wala naman akong nararamdaman na kakaiba,” he added when asked if he notices the fans' new attitude towards him. “Syempre. But it's good to hear there's no more jeering from fans,” added Abueva, who is born to an American father, who is his namesake.
Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Contd. on next pg.
Baldwin has nothing but praise for the former National Collegiate Athletic Association MVP.
“He never stands still, he never watches a game; many players do. Calvin is always on an attack mode, be it on getting the rebound, attacking the defence… or guarding an opponent,” said Baldwin in a Philstar.com interview, citing the difference Abueva made in the Philippines' stunning triumph over the then defending champion Iran at the Fiba Asia Championship last September.
“That's the way he plays and I think he can play for 15 years. Calvin is Calvin... He can play for me anytime.”
Pampanga Vice Governor Dennis Pineda, Abueva's discoverer and long-time patron, summed up Abueva's metamorphosis, saying “the fans have now come to know the real Abueva.”
 
“Very passionate lang talaga lumaro si Calvin. Sabi ko nga sa 'yo dati, si Calvin mamahalin mo nang husto pag lumalaro siya sa team mo, pero kakainisan mo ng todo pag kalaban mo,” said Pineda of Abueva whose basketball inspiration is Robert Jaworski, a Filipino cage legend.
“Pero ngayon at naglalaro siya para sa bansa, I am sure, naani ni Calvin ang respeto, paniniwala at pagmamahal ng mga fans. Ganun talaga lumaro si Calvin, kahit ensayo, buhos at go-hard. Maiinis ka nga eh kasi sobrang galing talaga,” he added.
Pineda said fans may have just misinterpreted Abueva's daredevil attitude, saying: “Ganun naman si Calvin eh. Gusto lang niya manalo. Kala lang natin na masama ang ugali ng bata pero napakabait 'nun. Tahimik lang 'yun. Maangas lang talaga siya sa court.”
Holding the distinction as the only cager in Philippine basketball history to finish in any of the country's major leagues as leader in points, rebounds and assists (with averages of 20.1 points, 16.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists) – when he was still with San Sebastian College-Recoletos in 2012 – Abueva's work ethics endeared him even more to the fans.
Abueva, who recently led the Philippine team to a sixth place finish in the Fiba 3x3 World Tour in Abu Dhabi, is expected to form the backbone anew of a Philippine squad looking to end a 44-year hiatus in the Summer Olympics.
 
 
The Pinoy dribblers failed to secure an outright slot to the 2016 quadrennial meet in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil after finishing second behind champion China at the Fiba Asia Championship.
But their semifinal finish was enough to earn for them the right to play for one of the three wild card Olympic slots to be tangled in three separate qualifiers.
To draw support from the basketball-crazy Filipino fans in the qualifiers, the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas, the national federation, is bidding to host one of the qualifiers – a costly undertaking with a minimum tag price of 1.75 million Euros or P91.4 million.
The Philippines is the only Asian country aiming to host one of the June 4-10 tourneys. 
Other applicants include Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Iran, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Serbia and Turkey said FIBA, which also reset the date of announcing the hosting winners from Nov 23 to Jan 11 next year.
 
From airport to basketball court
The Gilas 4.0 officially kicked off its preparation with a practice session last Nov 10 at the Meralco Gym, featuring a 17-man pool crème of the crop of the PBA.
And despite coming off grueling back-to-back games for Alaska in the PBA in Dubai, Abueva showed up in practice straight from the airport wearing street clothes.
He had to shrug off the effects of an eight-hour flight from the Middle East to join the pool, according to Spin.ph.
The four-year pro, according to the same report, “didn't join the scrimmages and shooting drills, excused himself and went home for a much deserved rest.” But his presence was enough to earn raves from everyone.
Except for Ranidel de Ocampo, who was still nursing a herniated disc due to a freak gym accident, all players released by PBA to the Gilas pool, including the returning Junmar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Greg Slaughter and Jeff Chan, were on hand.
“It’s nice to have the cream of the Philippine basketball crop all on one court,” said Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin in a Philstar report. “It was 100 per cent attendance, so I’m 100 per cent happy.”
Baldwin's visible joy is drawn from the turnaround of some PBA teams, particularly the ones under the San Miguel Corporation umbrella, which didn't support the Gilas's cause at the Fiba Asia Championship by not loaning their players.
“We’re a long way from anything, really, right now, but it’s very heartening, I’m sure, for the whole basketball community to see this group of guys on the floor,” Baldwin said in the Philstar report.
None of the Gilas pool players had been born when the Philippines last saw action in the quadrennial meet in Munich, where the squad was led by Bogs Adornado and Robert Jaworski.
According to a Philstar.com report, the squad will practice once a week, every Monday night, in a seven-month spread or until the current second conference of the PBA season is over.
"We would like to develop a very strong team chemistry. This is difficult when you are only meeting once a week but we want to try and do that. And I want to make the players understand that when they come into the Gilas environment, they will not only bring all of their talents, but also a mentality and attitude that is specific to what we're trying to accomplish," Baldwin said in a Spin.ph story.
Andre Blatche, the naturalised player who spent nine NBA seasons with the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets, is expected to rejoin Gilas at the end of the Chinese league next season.
Filipino-American NBA guard Jordan Clarkson expressed his commitment to Gilas Pilipinas, but SBP executive secretary Sonny Barrios said it will be a long process to get suited up for Gilas as they have to secure clearances from the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA and Fiba.
“That's the good thing, we all know Jordan Clarkson wants to play for Gilas,” Barrios told Spin.ph.
With the coveted Olympic slot on the line, Baldwin expects the players to give their all during practices. After all, they are also fighting for a slot in the team.
“In sports, we should be competing for something as precious as wearing the Gilas uniform. It's incredibly honourable to wear that and it should never be assumed that it's the right of any player. It's not, it's a privilege,” Baldwin said.
Count Abueva to rise up to the challenge.