LONG after the final buzzer had sounded, San Sebastian star Calvin Abueva looked every inch like a man who had no clue what hit him.
Abueva is the NCAA’s most popular player, a triple-double machine who became the first player in local basketball history to lead a major league in scoring, assists, and rebounds in a season. He was so gifted athletically he was picked in the second round by Alaska in the last PBA rookie draft.
Even before the season started, this was already ordained as his moment, when the 6-1 guard signs off with a championship trophy in one hand and an MVP trophy in the other as he leaves San Sebastian as a conquering hero.
Instead, he was no more than a stunned spectator on Monday as the Letran Knights completed an improbable trip to the NCAA Finals.
“Kumpyansa kami na papasok sa Finals,” said Abueva, moments after the twice-to-beat Stags dropped a 70-73 setback to the Knights in their sudden-death match. “Di ko din alam ano nangyari, binigay namin 'yung lahat ng kaya namin pero 'di lang talaga lumusot.”
A season filled with so much hope for Abueva now ends in disappointment. First to go was his MVP trophy, which he lost when he committed a bonehead disqualifying foul in the eliminations. Now he bids goodbye to a championship trophy he had yearned to win.
“Siguro 'di lang para sa amin 'to,” he said, grudgingly accepting defeat. “Sana maging aral sa amin yung mga nangyari, maging aral na rin sa kanilang mga maiiwan (sa team).”
Abueva was one third of the dreaded ‘Pinatubo Trio’ that had been hailed as one of the most dominant troika in college basketball. The other members are Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual, who like Abueva failed to win a championship on his final year with the team.
“Malungkot kasi last year ko na to gusto ko sana manalo,” he said. “Pero ayun naging malungkot ang exit.”
Being in the Finals the past three years, Pascual had hoped to get a shot at avenging their defeat to San Beda last season. “Chance na sana namin na magharap ng San Beda sa championship ulit,” he said, his voice trailing off.
Sangalang, at least, has another year of eligibility left with the team. He also will inherit the MVP award which his teammate had forfeited.
But the award rings hallow for Sangalang at the moment.
“Hindi na bale na ‘wag mag-MVP pero mag-champion kami,” he said. “Kasi pag champion mas madami ang sasaya, eh ngayon MVP nga pero di naman kumpleto ang saya, may kulang.”
The Stags captain said a championship would have been a fitting farewell gift for his senior teammates.
“Sobrang hirap kasi lagi kami nasa finals in the past three years, ngayon sobrang sakit. Tapos ang dami pa mawawala at di pa maganda ang exit nila kaya nakakalungkot. Masakit talaga.”