The Beast’s Road to FIBA Asia
Calvin Abueva, the 6’2 forward who is a product of Angeles, Pampanga, has been making a name for himself in Philippine basketball, which earned him the nickname “The Beast”. In his college days with the San Sebastian Stags, Abueva posted mind-boggling numbers with averages of 20.4 points, 14.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists in his collegiate career. Because of this, he earned the reputation of being the “Triple King Crown” as he led the NCAA in all three of these categories. With this, he also bagged the NCAA MVP in its 87th season. Another milestone he achieved was being part of the NCAA Mythical Five three times, specifically in the 85th, 86th and 87th seasons.
After having an amazing career in the NCAA, Abueva was definitely one of the prospects in the 2012 PBA Draft as he was selected as the 2nd overall pick by the Alaska Aces. In the Philippine Basketball Association, Abueva has not disappointed as he has been posting numbers of 11.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in his on-going PBA career, with his recent 2014-2015 season being the best, norming 12.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per outing. If his numbers weren’t enough, he was able to bring home the 2012-2013 PBA Rookie of the Year Award as he made an immediate impact and outlasted fellow PBA top picks—June Mar Fajardo and Cliff Hodge. Also, he became a PBA Champion in the 2013 PBA Commissioner’s cup when the Alaska Aces swept Barangay Ginebra 3-0 in the best of five finals. With this, the Alaska franchise notched their 14th PBA championship. Although his teammate Sonny Thoss was named the Finals MVP, there’s no doubt that The Beast was one of the key factors in the Aces’ championship run; locking down the opposing team’s best offensive players and hustling for loose balls. Calvin also made it to the PBA First and Second Mythical Team in the 2012-2013 season and in the 2014-2015 season, respectively. Adding to that, he was also part of the 2014-2015 PBA All-Defensive Team.
Although Calvin was a popular hardworking scrapper on the court and has so far achieved a lot in his young PBA career, he was branded by critics as a “dirty player”. One of Abueva’s trademarks is to get under the the skin of his match-up, which leads to unnecessary plays that many fans and coaches would disagree with. Abueva proved in the PBA that he can throw sneaky punches, elbows, or kicks that gave him a couple of flagrant and technical fouls. Another unnecessary antic of The Beast is how he taunts the opposing crowd. For instance, he does a “nganga gesture” to the crowd. Because of all of these, Calvin Abueva has definitely become one of the most polarizing figures in the PBA today.
Because of Calvin’s talents and skills, his name has floated around talks among the coaches of the Philippine national team. The Beast has not really had a taste for international basketball despite his outstanding basketball career in both in the amateur and in the local leagues. First of all, he decided not to join the Norman Black coached national team heading for the 26th Southeast Asian Games known as Sinag Pilipinas. The team successfully won the gold in 2011. Another opportunity came by in 2011 when the Smart Gilas program first tipped off under the coach Rajko Toroman but again, Abueva refused to be a part of the national team loaded with skilled amateurs. In 2014, some fans were pitching in The Beast to be included in the Gilas team that will compete in the FIBA World Cup after 40 years and in the Asian Games in Incheon. But, Gilas coach at that time, Chot Reyes, closed the doors on Abueva. This is because Reyes disliked the gestures and the unnecessary plays that Calvin makes, which Reyes believes can only bring more bad than good to the national team.
After a disappointing and controversial finish by Gilas Pilipinas in the Asian Games, Chot Reyes decided to step down from coaching duties as Tab Baldwin, his assistant coach, was set to replace him. Baldwin, a decorated coach, has found success in coaching for different countries such as New Zealand, Jordan, Malaysia, and now the Philippines. Baldwin had a couple of players in mind for the upcoming 2015 FIBA Asia Championships but his prospects were affected with injuries and personal reasons as it forced him to select players who were not in his original wish list. One of the players that was not on his wish list but was tapped was Calvin Abueva. Abueva was not on Baldwin’s wish list because he thought that Calvin was quite undersized for his position in international play and he also would not be able to fit in Baldwin’s system. But because of the lack of players, Baldwin took a chance on The Beast.
After 3 weeks of practice, the new Gilas national team was set to join a 4 team pocket tournament in Estonia, which involved the host team, Netherlands, Iceland, and Gilas Pilipinas. The Philippines’ first game was against the Netherlands. In this game, the Netherlands blew out the Philippine national team with a 89-62 beating. Despite this, there was a silver lining. Calvin Abueva showed the Gilas coaching staff his potential in the international game as he went against a taller opposition. The Beast was the lone Gilas player who finished in double figures with 12 points as he also chipped in with 6 rebounds. Baldwin and other veterans were impressed with the energy for Abueva to dive for loose balls and to grab rebounds despite his height as this makes The Beast so versatile and such a game changer. Adding to this, Calvin had no problems adjusting to international referees despite playing his very first game wearing the Philippine jersey. In the end, Gilas went winless in Estonia as they also dropped their last two games as well, losing by 10 in both of those games.
In the annual William Jones Cup, the Philippine national team has never entered the tournament since 2012. After 3 years, Gilas looked to duplicate it’s performance when they win gold after beating a USA selection team 76-75 that was led by former Gilas playmaker, L. A Tenorio. Abueva continued to show his wares and what he can contribute to the national team by showing Coach Tab that he can play in multiple positions. Although there were times he was struggling because of foul trouble, the Beast fought for loose balls, steals, rebounds, and all the hustle stats. In the end, the Philippines finished a 6-2 record which was good enough for a silver medal. In the whole tournament, Calvin Abueva averaged 10.1 points and 6.25 rebounds. Abueva led Gilas Pilipinas in rebounding, as he was one of the two players who played 8 games in 8 straight days. The other player who played in all the games was big man, Moala Tautuaa.
After the tournament, Baldwin admitted how thankful he was that Abueva was able to prove him wrong. He admitted in a press conference, which happened after Gilas destroyed Chinese Taipei-B 96-67, wherein he showed his admiration for The Beast stating “I’ll say it publicly, I love this guy.” To add to that, he also said “He can play for me anytime.” Baldwin appreciated the work ethics of Abueva as he mentioned that even if Abueva took a hard fall, The Beast would still be willing to play when his number was called After winning the admiration of his decorated coach, Abueva was one of the names who made the cut for the final 12 that will compete in the upcoming 2015 FIBA Asia Championship. Once Gilas came home with the silver medal, they quickly went back to work as they were getting ready for the MVP Cup. In the recently concluded MVP Cup held in Manila, Abueva didn’t disappoint as he continued to showcase his talents and logged in 9.67 points per outing with his last game against Chinese Taipei being the best, scoring 11 points and grabbing 6 rebounds.
Yes, this kid may be one of the players who upsets everyone on the court and who makes unnecessary plays & gestures but he absolutely has the potential and skill to excel in international basketball. Currently, Abueva is arguably in his best form after having a taste of international basketball which makes him a force to be reckoned with, especially after being trained under the watchful eyes for both Coach Tab Baldwin and Coach Alex Compton. He must be hungrier than ever to compete with the best players in Asia after the number of opportunities he passed by, the admiration he earned from his coaches, and the Jones Cup silver medal he accomplished. As the FIBA Asia Wars draw near, our Asian counterparts will have to prepare hard for Calvin Abueva because The Beast will finally be unleashed as he will be more than ready to wreak havoc in Changsha, China and show everyone why he deserves to be a part of the Philippine national basketball team.
Written by Spencer See.
Spencer is a first year college student taking up AB Communications in Ateneo De Manila University.
You may Follow Spencer at Twitter: @water_dispencer