RABEH Al-Hussaini insists he has become a more mature person on and off the court after his sabbatical from the PBA.
The mercurial big man is set to make a comeback with Meralco and the pro league after a one-year stay in Kuwait, where he worked on his family’s pension and citizenship papers, and played in the local league in the process.
“More mature na siguro ako on how to handle things or reactions sa court, mga referees,” the 27-year-old Al-Hussaini said in a chat with Spin.ph after the Bolts practice on Friday. “Sa lahat ng maliliit na bagay, I could proudly say naman na nag-mature ako as a person.”
The former Ateneo star, who Air21 made the second overall pick in 2010, said his roller-coaster experience in the Gulf nation helped him a lot, stressing he didn’t go there for some R&R.
“Hindi madali yung pinagdaanan ko ‘dun, sobrang hirap,” Al-Hussaini said. “Akala lang ng tao na medyo pasarap, pero hindi. Para makuha ko yung kailangan kong kunin, kailangan ko talagang humarap pa sa butas ng karayom.”
The Filipino-Kuwaiti cager cited one example where he had to deal with strict officers regarding his citizenship application.
“I don’t look Kuwaiti kasi may mga tattoo ako. Sa kanila taboo ‘to. Hindi sila open country eh,” he said. “So yung adjustment na ginawa ko, nakatulong kung paano ko i-handle sila. Feeling ko mas madali na lang kung paano ko iha-handle yung tao dito. Nagising ako sa katotohanan pag punta ko ‘dun.”
Al-Hussaini stressed he didn’t abandon the Bolts, saying he had an agreement with team manager Paolo Trillo that he’d be back in time for this year’s Philippine Cup.
“May deal kami ni sir Paolo dati nung pagkaalis ko pa lang na bago mag-all-Filipino this year, babalik ako.”
He thought he’d come back sooner.
“Bago ako umalis, sinabi ko naman na baka matagalan ako kasi hindi naman basta-basta yung pag-ayos dun,” he said. “Akala ko din dati aabutin lang ako ng two weeks.”
But Al-Hussaini blamed a long, stringent screening process that saw them go through several tests including DNA testing, that delayed his return.
“Yung sistema din kasi ‘dun, may kabagalan din,” he admitted. “Syempre konti lang rin naman yung mga citizens nila, so talagang ini-screen pa kami para ma-prove namin na ano kami. May money involved eh, so they’re making sure na tama yung information na binibigay ko.”
Al-Hussaini admitted he played in the Kuwaiti league for Al-Qadsia for five months from December to April - but only to expedite the process of his papers.
“Yung owner ng team na pinaglaruan ko, sinabi na para mapabilis rin daw lahat ng kailangan kong gawin, I had to play with his team,” he explained. “Wala akong nagawa.”
“Muntik pa nga ako hindi makauwi, kasi nung naglaro na ako ‘dun, parang sabi niya na, ‘O, okay ka naman dito, mag-stay ka na lang,’” he added. “Pero sabi ko, ‘hindi, kasi may deal naman tayo and kailangan ko rin talaga umuwi.”
Al-Hussaini explained he really had to go through the ordeal for his family’s sake as Kuwaiti citizens are entitled to pensions from their government.
“Security ‘yun eh,” he said. “Aside from the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, wala akong nakikitang bansa na mag-uubos ng pera para sa tao nila.”
“It’s for our future,” he added.
Now, the former Rookie of the Year is back as promised to revive his pro career.
“Competitive talaga ako, gusto ko manalo kahit minsan masama na yung tingin ng tao.”
An added motivation was he had to attend to his Filipina mom, who’s suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Al-Hussaini didn’t show up in the Bolts’ offseason training camp unprepared, baring he underwent a rigorous two-month plyometrics program under trainer John Aquino at the House of Pain behind the prodding of half-brother and former pro Carlo Sharma.
“Nagpakundisyon muna ako. Ayaw ko naman magpakita sa kanila na (hindi pa kundisyon). Masasabi ko na kundisyon ako nung nakita nila ako.”
The 6-foot-7 center has since undergone twice-a-day practices with the Bolts that left him sidelined with a swelling on his right knee.
“Ngayon pina-pace ko yung sarili ko kasi medyo nabigla ako ata,” said Al-Hussaini, who’s set to sign a new contract with a Bolts side that has lacked ceiling in previous campaigns.
“Sobrang thankful ako kay coach Norman, sir Paolo, and the rest sa pag-accept nila sa akin pagbalik,” he said.
“Binigyan nila ako ng chance and I don’t want to waste it.”