Rhenz Abando’s rise from virtual unknown coming from the province to household name has been astounding to watch. From being a mere notable player coming into the season after promising preseason tournaments, he’s since then been plastered as the poster boy of probinsyano basketball players; a silent hard worker with plenty of talent who simply keeps on doing what he does best for his family. He was an MVP candidate to start the season. He had highlights worthy of a mixtape already. The rise should have been continuous for the native out of La Union.

Should have been.

On October 17, 2019, Inquirer.net first reported that Rhenz Abando had informed the UST Growling Tigers management that he was transferring to another school. With this one domino, others started to fall. But instead of the chips falling in an organized manner, it went haywire as various stories started to circulate regarding Rhenz’s reported transfer.

Multiple stories started to circulate regarding Rhenz’s transfer, with none of them giving fans any form of clarity with the situation. Things only settled down once Aldin Ayo announced through The Varsitarian that Abando had agreed to stay in UST for the rest of his collegiate career after meeting with UST officials. Yet despite the assurance from Abando, there was still noticeable tension around the air regarding the situation. Questions continued to swirl. But here’s one question that started to gain traction last night:

Why is Abando even getting THIS much attention?

Let’s break everything down.

What makes this situation unique

Situations in basketball gain prominence because of these three important factors: the timing of the situation, the hype surrounding the player, and his importance from a purely basketball standpoint.

In terms of timing, this deserves all the attention. It is absolutely unheard of to see reports of transfers while the season is ONGOING. Tampering and receiving offers in-season isn’t anything unique. But for a player to drop the ball and announce he’s leaving his team while games are in play is a different monster altogether. Imagine if Kevin Durant announced during the 2019 NBA Playoffs that he was going to the Brooklyn Nets. NBA Twitter would have gone BANANAS and reasonably so.

In terms of hype, of course it deserves to be talked about! Rhenz has become the face of probinsyano basketball players. He’s transcended basketball altogether as he’s turned into an inspiration for players from all around the Philippines. The heart of Philippine Basketball is in the streets. Abando screams kanto basketball. People care about him. He needs  to be talked about.

Then there’s the third factor, arguably the most underrated one in Philippine Basketball: his importance from a purely basketball standpoint. One paragraph won’t suffice for this. Let’s break it down deeper.

Just how good is Rhenz Abando?

Abando had a STELLAR start to his UAAP career. He started it off with a 22 point performance versus the UE Red Warriors, while topping it off with a solid performance in the clutch versus the UP Fighting Maroons. After that breakthrough win versus UP, people started to talk about Abando as a potential Gilas Pilipinas player in the long run. He looked like the perfect type of wing Gilas needs to replace Gabe Norwood; uber-athletic, can shoot, and has plenty of grit on the defensive end. 

Even after that UP game, the highlights continued to come for Abando. His out of bounds dunk against the Ateneo Blue Eagles. His monster block against the Adamson Soaring Falcons. The hype surrounding him had reached Scottie Thompson levels, where he’d made blocking shots into must-watch content. Abando was electric. Others would even go as far as to say as special.

Truth be told, Abando is special, but not exactly in the way one would expect. Here’s something people need to understand: probinsyano basketball players are unique from the ones we find in Metro Manila. The likes of Kiefer Ravena came from the fundamentals of organized basketball camps. But Abando never had the luxury of attending camps like that. His game was honed on the streets, where players often rely on instinct, natural athletic ability, and if you don’t have athleticism, skill. 

More often than not, players from the province only had two out of those three attributes. But Abando is unique: he had ALL three right from the start. He had a natural feel for the game the minute he entered the UAAP. His athleticism needs no explanation at this point. In terms of skill, he was really good at one thing, the thing players from the streets often forget to practice: shooting. 

Athletic players often rely on their physical gifts when playing on the streets, a result of their instincts. Here’s the unique thing with Abando: he uses his physical gifts to fuel the use of the one skill he’s elite at. People will say it’s easy to defend shooters, just stick on them! But not Abando. Sticking to him is easier said than done because he does such a good job of using his speed to create separation, while maintaining balance whenever he squares up for catch and shoot threes. That’s a lot of movement for just one shot. Add in the vertical leap of Abando and you need extra control with how your body moves. Abando has all of those things.

But here’s the problem: Abando’s actually been exposed after his hot start as alluded to by Frankie Serrano in his piece about UST’s next gear. His stats have dropped since then, as he’s only currently averaging 11.3 points per game on 36 percent total field goal shooting, while making just 54 percent of his free throws. Abando has instincts. Abando is athletic. Abando has ONE elite skill. But just being good at one thing won’t cut it if you want to make the leap from good basketball player to franchise cornerstone.

71 percent of Abando’s shots comes from the three-point line, which is pretty in-line with Aldin Ayo’s system of shooting plenty of three-pointers. But the problem with Rhenz’s play is outside of his three-point shot, he doesn’t have enough options to make defenses think. He may be athletic with a unique blend of body control and shooting skill, but he lacks counters when defenses are able to lock in on his movement.

Teams have since then sent defenders built to physically punish Abando. While he can jump, he still isn’t strong enough to push the best of defenders. He’s built to be lanky; we can clearly see that. But he still needs to further develop his body, as he’ll be facing bigger defenders by the time he enters the PBA.

Aside from his body, Abando also needs to work on the rest of his game. Coach Aldin Ayo has alluded to this as well, mentioning that while Abando is talented, he still has holes in his game which needs to be filled. Guess what; that’s okay! There is no such thing as a perfect basketball player as our body has its limits with what it can do. The key is for players to maximize what they have and Abando has the luxury of having a ceiling that’s higher than 80 percent of the UAAP.

It all starts with his athleticism. He needs to learn to use that extra boost from his hops not just for blocking shots or dunks; he also needs to attack the rim. The problem with Abando is whenever defenses are able to clamp down when he catches the ball off a curl, he hesitates to attack the defense even if he has the physical tools to get past them. There are various factors for this, including his lack of strength to help in getting through defenders. This is certainly a weakness right now, but Abando clearly has the tools to work through it.

The other weakness Rhenz has doesn’t come from his athleticism; instead it comes with mindset. Rhenz is a score-first guard.  There’s no problem with this, but he needs to mix it up by learning how to create for his teammates. He only averages 1.1 assists per game while committing 2.3 turnovers per game. Those are too many errors for someone who doesn’t set his teammates up exclusively. He doesn’t have to be a point guard all of a sudden. He just needs to better his vision and his understanding of the game so he’s able to find holes in when the defense over commits to his gravity.

In summary: In terms of a purely basketball standpoint, he isn’t THAT important… yet. To classify him in the levels of Ben Mbala, Kiefer Ravena, or even Bobby Ray Parks isn’t warranted for now. He’s a very good basketball player. But he isn’t a franchise cornerstone… yet. 

He can get there though. It all starts with his natural physical gifts and his unique blend of instincts, athleticism, and that ONE skill he has with his shooting. If he’s able to add a better slashing game as well as play making, you have a player that deserves to receive Gilas consideration.

For now, we sit back and marvel at how Rhenz is right now. The highlights are fun, but the hype can get unnecessarily blown out. Rhenz is a good basketball player. There’s nothing wrong with that. Time will only tell whether he’s able to reach the levels his potential has shown us.