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    Rhenz Abando uncomfortable accepting Rookie of the Year award

    May 22, 2022
    Letran star Rhenz Abando says a pep talk from Alfrancis Chua fired him up late in Game Two.
    Letran star Rhenz Abando says a pep talk from Alfrancis Chua fired him up late in Game Two.
    PHOTO: Marlo Cueto

    ALL Rhenz Abando wanted was to be a champion - the reason Letran brought him in and why he committed to the Knights.

    Those were all hollow words until the final three minutes of Game Two of the NCAA Finals against Mapua when Abando had to show Letran how badly he wanted it.

    "Sabi ko sa sarili ko, kailangan kong kunin ito kasi pag di ko kinuha ngayon ito, mag-Game Three pa. Siguradong may kalalagyan din kami," said Abando of the moment when a 21-point Letran lead was cut down to just six, 68-62, by the fighting Cardinals with 2:47 left in the game on Sunday.

    [See Letran caps perfect season with Game 2 win over Mapua]

    It also helped that a familiar face sitting behind the Letran bench sought his ear for that final push.

    "Binulungan ako ni boss Al [Chua] na, 'Ikaw na ang mag-take over dyan.'," he said. "Nagkaroon ako ng kumpyansa dahil sa sinabi ni boss Al. Ginawa ko lang yung part ko as a player, sumunod lang ako sa coaches namin."

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    Abando eventually took off the chains, scoring six of the final seven points for the Knights as they pulled off a 75-65 win over the Cardinals to wrap up their second successive title in the country's oldest collegiate league.

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    That proved a fitting end to his sensational 14-point, 12-rebound performance in a perfect season where he was named Season MVP and Rookie of the Year.

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    "Bago ako pumunta dito, sabi ko sa sarili ko na ipapakita kong di nagkamali yung coaches at mga bosses na kinuha nila ako. Gusto ko lang patunayan sa sarili ko na kaya ko ring mag-champion pagkatapos maging runner-up lagi.

    "Sobrang saya sa feeling kasi ilang taon na ako, nakapag-champion pa rin ako," said the much-celebrated transferee from University of Santo Tomas.

    [See Rhenz Abando named rookie-MVP]

    Despite the boatloads of trophies that he took home, there's one that Abando doesn't feel comfortable taking: the Rookie of the Year honors.

    "Ako rin sa sarili ko, di ko rin masyado tanggap yung pagka-Rookie of the Year ko. Mas deserving yung mga fresh grad from high school," he lamented.

    NCAA rules stipulate that all first year players, regardless if they're high school graduates or transferees, are eligible for the top neophyte plum - making Abando a shoo-in for the trophy.

    What can't be denied, though, was him stamping his class on the field to be hailed as the top individual player this season, with him saying, "Yung MVP naman siguro, walang masasabi doon kasi lahat kami galing sa pandemic at wala kaming experience lahat for two years. Pantay-pantay kami sa MVP."

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      He became the first Letran player to win the MVP trophy since Raymond Almazan in 2013, and the league's first rookie-MVP since Allwell Oraeme in 2015.

      Still, Abando remains unsatisfied as he has his eyes set on what's next - a potential three-peat for Letran come NCAA Season 98 later this year.

      "Actually, iniisip ko na agad yun. Ayokong magpabaya," he said. "Babalik ako na pag nag-start yung practice namin, kundisyon ako at ang kailangan ko na lang is iimprove yung kulang ko."

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      Letran star Rhenz Abando says a pep talk from Alfrancis Chua fired him up late in Game Two.
      PHOTO: Marlo Cueto
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