YOU have to play D to get the nod of the Flying A.
Johnny Abarrientos earned the tag as one of the biggest small men to play in the PBA not just for his fearless play on offense, but also his peskiness on the defensive end of the floor.
So if you ask the 5-foot-7 playmaker – the shortest player to win a league MVP award – who the best point guards after his time are, one criterion is his ability to play defense.
“Sorry ha, pero gusto ko lang i-mention na I hate guards kasi na walang depensa,” Abarrientos began in a chat with SPIN.ph. “Given sa’yo na umii-score ka, you get your own shots – kasi ninety percent of the time, na sa’yo yung bola eh. Pero on the other end, you should teach yourself how to defend, especially individual, kasi dun mo maipo-prove na may pride ka.”
“Ako, wala naman siguro akong tinalo sa palakihan ng players ngayon na naglalaro sa PBA, pero I have my pride na dinedepensahan ko yung import,” he added. “Hindi naman ako nagbubuhat ng bangko, pero maraming point guard ngayon na one-dimensional player lang.”
Abarrientos retired in 2009 as a five-time All-Defensive Team member and the pro league's all-time leader in steals with 1,302 and he gets disappointed by players who 'cheat' the game.
“Siguro nagre-reserve sila ng (energy) sa opensa nila, kaya on the other end, hindi na dumepensa,” the 16-year veteran said. “Maraming player na ganun eh – shino-short cut nila yung depensa, nakikita mo lang 'yung opensa nila.”
“Sinasabi ng media, yung mga nanonood, ‘Uy, ang galling ni ganito,’ pero hindi rin kasi ganun yung pag tingin ng player,” he added. “Kaya nase-separate yung great players sa good players, dahil hindi lahat ng players dumedepensa.”
So these are the playmakers who Abarrientos thinks know how to break down defenders, but refuse to get blown by on defense as well:
The Star playmaker has always been known as a two-way player from his days at Far Eastern University to the time he jumped to the pros. And having Abarrientos as a Hotshots assistant coach has given him constant reminder to keep doing this thing.
“Given yan na defender,” Abarrientos said of Barroca. “Pero ang question ko sa kanya lagi ay, ‘Paano mo mapo-prove sa akin na you can make your teammates look good every time and they are happy with you along with them?’ Dapat naiintindihan mo na masaya sila.'”
The San Miguel Beer point guard is a fixture when the game is on the line usually because he delivers on offense. But the “Crunchman” is never a liability on the other end of the court.
“Hindi ako naa-amaze sa scorer, pero pag dating sa depensa, kailangan mo ilabas, you need to hide him,” Abarrientos said. “Learn to play D. Yung pride hindi naman natuturo yun eh, tsaka yung desire, yung willingness to stop players. Tapos magiging habit mo na ‘yun.”
While he has proven he can score in bunches, the Ginebra star defers to his teammates initially before taking over when the need arises.
“Pag point guard ka, dapat ikaw yung last option, kahit gaano ka kagaling umi-score,” Abarrientos said. “That’s why idol ko si boss Hector (Calma) eh. Kaya ng tinawag na ‘The Director,’ ‘di ba? Sobra siyang mag-organize ng team. Para siyang director talaga sa loob. To think na hindi siya ganun ka-scorer, pero kita mo naman – everybody's happy alongside him.”
“Rare na yung mga ganun players – na team players, kasi maraming pansarili lang yung style eh,” he added.
One player who has started to make a conscious effort to involve his teammates better is the GlobalPort playmaker, with Abarrientos talking more about his improved facilitating ability rather than his defense.
“At least pino-prove na niya na marunong din siyang pumasa, kaya niya ring dalhin yung team niya,” Abarrientos said.
“Kasi yun yung problema niya sa college eh,” he added of Romeo, who he handled at FEU for almost three years being an assistant. “Hindi ko alam kung nate-threaten siya or for some reason, although alam mo naman na kaya niya umi-score anytime na may bola siya, hindi yun yung beauty ng basketball pag point guard ka – kung paano mo madadala yung team mo sa next level na masaya sila, everybody has touches.”
The TNT superstar is another player whose offensive brilliance is probably enough reason for Abarrientos to include him on this list.
Abarrientos, once close to reaching the NBA dream after being offered to take part in a Charlotte Hornets preseason camp in 1997, talked about the improved outside shooting of Castro, who received feelers in the offseason to play in the Chinese Basketball Association.
“Given yung special gift niya na athleticism, super athlete siya. He improved as he went along, kasi nung college, hindi naman siya ganun ka-(shooter),” Abarrientos said. “Nung nagkaroon siya ng shooting, sobrang hirap na niyang (bantayan).”
“Parang ganun din ako nag-start,” he added. “Hindi dahil ayaw kong tumira, mas nage-enjoy ako na chuma-challenge ako sa loob ng big man, pero later part, getting older, dapat matuto ka magkaroon ng fifteen to eighteen (-foot jumper) to three-point shot, which is yun yung separation ng pagiging Jayson Castro. Wala ng mapo-prove si Jayson. Lahat ng achievement, nakuha na niya.”
Jio Jalalon - “Jio loves to pressure every time. (After ng) basket dyan, pi-pickup-in ka niya. That’s the attitude. Dun din ako nasanay.”
Some, though, were mentioned for different reasons.
Jimmy Alapag and Jayjay Heltrbrand – “Parang hindi ko nakikita yung sarili ko sa kanila eh. Jimmy more on three-point shooter, transition three, hindi siya more on creation for his teammates, pero later part ng career niya.”
RR Garcia – “Player ko si RR (last conference), pero hindi ko siya pinili, kasi that’s (defense) his problem. Alam niya rin yun.”