CALVIN Abueva doesn’t look amused.
After another gruelling Alaska Aces practice, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) newcomer is obviously tired, and hungry. But instead of hitting the showers and stuffing himself silly, he’s stuck with Men’s Health talking about his height — in particular, his lack of it.
Last August, PBA watchers were flabbergasted (then were in awe) when it was revealed that Abueva had been measured at the PBA Rookie Camp at a guard-like 6’1 1/2”. Yes, he’s taller than the average Filipino and tall enough to play pro basketball. But considering the things he could do on the court, the numbers he produced in college, and the fear he brought to his opponents, he seemed a bit short.
For the first time in Abueva’s career, people doubted him. There’d be no way he could play like the double-double monster he was in college, they said. All because everyone now knew that he was only a tad taller than most PBA point guards. Who wouldn’t be annoyed?
THE FIRST SIGHTING
“Bata pa lang ako, agresibo na ako maglaro,” shares the 25-year-old Abueva. “Malikot. Takbo lang ng takbo. Energetic.” Born in Angeles City, Pampanga to a Filipino mother and an American father, basketball wasn’t even his first sport. “Noong una talaga volleyball ang nilalaro ko,” he remembers. “Yung mga kaibigan ko lang ang nagsama sa akin mag-basketball.” He used to comb through the streets of Angeles with friends, going from court to court. He was the quintessential “anak araw,” playing even under the sun’s full strength. Whatever damage it brought to his skin was paid for in full with the improvement to his game.
Abueva says he was around 18 when he first met former Lubao, Pampanga mayor Dennis Pineda. Pineda — credited as of late for guiding the careers of several Kapampangan ballers like PBA superstar Arwind Santos - brought the young Abueva under his wing. And that’s when he started showcasing his multi-faceted game to many amateur commercial leagues. But the national spotlight came knocking after three years.
It was in 2009 when PBA legend Ato Agustin was hired as the new coach of the NCAA’s San Sebastian College-Recoletos Golden Stags. Agustin inherited a veteran team which he infused with some talented rookies courtesy of Pineda, including the then 21-year-old Abueva.
The Stags won 15 straight games in the elimination round en route to dethroning the defending three-peat champs, the San Beda Red Lions, in the Finals. Abueva played the part of super rookie sub, averaging 11.1 points and 8.76 rebounds per game.
Although he made it to that year’s Mythical Five selection, Abueva was just showing a glimpse of the devastating presence that he is now. His best performance came, fittingly, in Game One of the Finals, where he scored 10 points, grabbed 23 rebounds, and blocked five shots — that’s despite going up against San Beda’s 6’8” American center Sudan Daniel.
THE RAMPAGE BEGINS
Of course, nobody knew then what Abueva’s true height was. Slender and with a 6’5” wingspan, he easily looked — and played — every inch of his listed 6’4” height. “Nung college ako marami na ring malalaki, pero dinadaan ko sila sa power,” he says. But power wasn’t his only edge. He’s highly athletic, innately fierce, and had a natural knack for the ball — hence 'The Beast' moniker.
In his sophomore year, Abueva led the NCAA in rebounding (12.3 rpg), was third in scoring (16.3 spg), and eighth in blocks (1 bpg). His numbers earned him his second Mythical Five spot. He also led the Stags back to the Finals but they lost to San Beda.
The Red Lions repeated over the Stags in the 2011 season, ruining Abueva’s lone MVP year. He led the league in scoring (20.6 ppg) and rebounding (13.7 rpg) that year, while showing drastic improvements to his passing game (averaging 3.9 apg, third best in the league).
Then history happened. In his last year of eligibility, Abueva became the first and only player in Philippine basketball history to lead a major league in points (20.3 ppg), rebounds (16.5 ppg), and assists (6.2 apg). He was also second in blocks (1.63 bpg) and third in steals (1.32 spg).
He was a shoo-in for his second MVP award (and fourth straight Mythical Five selection) but was disqualified when he threw a punch to the back of the head of an opponent who had fouled him hard. His action led to his ejection from the game and an automatic one-game suspension. The incident also solidified what many of his detractors had long been saying: 'The Beast' is a heck of a player, but his temper can’t be tamed.
IN SEARCH OF CONTROL
“That’s the problem with Calvin, it’s always like he’s just one technical away from starting World War III,” says one scribe also present in the Alaska practice.
'The Beast,' though, explains his actions a different way: “Nung dumating ako dito [sa Manila] sanay na ako sa pisikalan, ganun ang laro namin kasi sa Pampanga. Pero dahil bago ako, tiningnan ko muna kung gaano ka-pisikal ang laro dito at kung gaano ka sira ang ulo nung mga makakalaban ko. Siyempre tatantiyahin mo rin sila para alam mo kung anong gagawin mo.”
Abueva knew, however, that he had to change his tack once he entered the PBA. He knew he won’t always be the most menacing presence or most powerful guy on the hardcourt. He’ll also be facing players who are equally athletic but are, more often than not, way taller than him. Faced with all this, Abueva turned to what he believed could now carry him in the pro league. It’s the cheesiest trait a sportsman could have, and has often been carelessly thrown around as if everyone has it: Puso.
“Malaki nga sila pero di naman nila makukuha yung sipag mo sa pagkuha ng rebound,” Abueva says. His ultra-lively way of playing, though, has earned the ire of a couple of PBA veterans. In only eight months as a pro, Abueva has been called a “punching bag for opposing teams” by his own coach, was slapped hard on the face by one opponent, and has eaten a handful of elbows from the league’s much bigger enforcers.
Surprisingly, Abueva takes a level-headed approach to his PBA initiation. “Hindi ko na yan pinapansin, kaya lang naman sila ganoon kalakas mamisikal kasi nagugulat sila sa kakayahan ko. Basta ako laro lang ng laro. Babawian ko na lang sila sa pagiging aggressive.”
He then adds, albeit a bit comically: “At kapag gumanti ka kasi mate-technical ka, tapos ipapatawag ka pa sa PBA office. Maaga yun, so mata-traffic ka pa papunta dun. [The PBA office is right after Eastwood City in Libis, right in the heart of Quezon City’s financial center.] Hassle di ba? Tatawanan ko na lang sila.”
So far, Abueva’s aggressiveness has paid off. In his first week as a pro, he was named both Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week. He also placed second in statistical points (a player’s cumulative stats) in the race for the best player award of the PBA’s first conference, the Philippine Cup.
As of this writing, he’s second in the league in rebounds, third in blocks, 13th in steals, and 14th in scoring. Hardly the numbers of a man people should fear, we know. But it’s not bad for a rookie, don’t you think?
So, going back to the question: will he become only the second player ever to win both Rookie of the Year and MVP awards? It’s unlikely, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if it happens. After all, if there’s something we now know about Abueva, it’s that you should never — ever — doubt his abilities. 'The Beast' is more than ready to take on all corners.
METHOD TO THE MADNESS
How beast-like is The Beast? YouTube has the answers!
1. Type on YouTube: Alaska Aces VS ROS (Cardiac Win over Rain or Shine) 02/09/2013
You’ll see: The Beast hitting a clutch trey, then blocking the opposing team’s 7’3” center.
2. Type on YouTube: Calvin Abueva “Halimaw supalpal steal”
You’ll see: Aggressiveness to him is never an exaggeration.
3. Type on YouTube: Calvin Abueva “The Beast” first dunk in the PBA.
You’ll see: Just another proof of The Beast’s many abilities
4. Type on YouTube: Calvin Abueva wins PBA Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week.
You’ll see: What 'The Beast' did when he was first unleashed in the PBA
(Note: The article first appeared in the April 2013 issue of Men's Health)