AFTER a sophomore season jinxed by injuries and controversies, Calvin Abueva is back to his best for an Alaska team that is on the cusp of reaching the PBA Philippine Cup Finals.
So what changed?
The relentless 6-1 1/2 forward credits the retooled system of Alaska coach Alex Compton which mixed up the triangle offense with a lot of running and gunning and full court pressing for bringing out the old fire in 'The Beast.'
The former Rookie of the Year awardee said he is very much at home in the new system, which Abueva said is very much close to the game he grew up playing during his 'larong labas' days in and around Pampanga.
"Mas kumportable talaga ako run. Kasi ever since 'nung bata ako hanggang college, ganito ang sistema na nilalaro ko - running," said Abueva, recalling his days with the 'Team Delta' side of Pampanga vice governor Dennis Pineda.
"Yan talaga ang nakalakihan ko, 'yung takbuhan at pisikalan. Yung high-octane basketball," he added.
Abueva took the league by storm as the second overall pick in 2012, averaging 12.25 points, 9.37 rebounds and 1.82 assists per game to win top rookie honors.
But a knee injury and continuous adjustment to the complex triangle offense saw Abueva's numbers dip to 9.17 points, 7.24 rebounds and 1.79 assists last season as a sophomore.
Abueva said he has struggled to master the triangle offense and credits Compton for making the adjustments that brought the best out of his players.
"Syempre, nag-a-adjust pa rin talaga ako sa triangle," he explained. "Maganda ang rotation ngayon. Fit talaga ako sa system. Dati kasi medyo hirap ako sa triangle offense. High IQ system kasi yun."
The former San Sebastian Stags star was also candid enough to admit that to this day, he has only soaked in about 60 percent of what he has to learn about the offensive system laid down by Tex Winter.
"Oo, ganun nga. Parang 40 percent pa ang kailangan kong matutunan dun (triangle offense)," he added.
With Alaska a win away from reaching the Philippine Cup finals opposite San Miguel Beer, Abueva said he expects an all-out war in Game Six that will be marked by physicality not seen in the first five games.
"Basta, all out na kami bukas," he said. "Tiyak ko mag-o-all out rin mga yun. Kasi kilala naman natin mga 'yun, experienced na rin saka hindi basta-basta sumusuko. Hindi rin nila basta-basta ibibigay ang laro.
"Tiyak ko mas magiging pisikal 'yan. Kilala mo naman mga players nun. Kami, hindi naman. Lalaruin lang game namin. Mamisikal sila. Ayos lang sa amin. Wag lang sobrang grabe," said the pride of Angeles City.
Abueva likewise revealed to Spin.ph how he is gearing up for a wild game on Sunday.
"Nagluluto ako ngayon ng nilagang baka. Ako nagluto. Ito naisip ko na iulam ngayon para bukas, may lakas tayo ng katawan na makipagbanggaan," said Abueva in his usual 'kanto boy' tone.
"Pag Rain or Shine ang kalaban mo, kailangan mo talagang ihanda ang iyong katawan. Sila ang pinaka pisikal na team ngayon eh. Old school kasi ang laro ng mga players, palitan ng mukha," he said with a laugh.
And will the series end in Game Six, Abueva was asked.
"Pipilitin namin. Kasi mahirap bigyan ng chance ang Rain or Shine," said Abueva as he looks forward to his second finals appearance in the PBA after helping Alaska win the 2012 Governors cup under then coach Luigi Trillo.