Finally, the 2011-12 PBA season was over.
It had been the worst in recent memory for the Alaska Aces. They were coming off the departure of their iconic coach, Tim Cone, and were already on coach #2 in the span of three conferences, going from Joel Banal to Luigi Trillo.
Clearly, the team was in rebuilding mode.
After compiling an 11-24 record, including a pair of second-to-last finishes (thanks Shopinas.com/Air21!), the team was now set to reap the fruits of their suckiness — the second overall pick in the 2012 Draft.
Going number one of course, was June Mar Fajardo, to the then-Petron Blaze Boosters. After that, there was a wealth of options. NLEX (the PBA D-League incarnation) standouts Cliff Hodge or Chris Ellis? How about another Chris in Chris Tiu? FEU big man Aldrech Ramos?
In the end though, the Aces went with the best talent available, one Calvin “The Beast” Abueva. And while the fit was odd at first, the chaotic, rampaging SSC-R standout on the prim and proper Alaska squad, the team has only benefited from his wild nature since then.
(DIRTY) SHIT HAPPENS
If you’re not an Alaska fan it’s easy to boo Calvin Abueva. It’s even easier to understand why, as a player, you might wanna partake in some… extra-curricular activity in response to The Beast’s actions.
Bullying opposing players is normal in basketball. Guys like Ronald Tubid, Gabby Espinas, and Beau Belga (or maybe the entire Rain or Shine team) are all considered “physical” players, after all.
But instead of blunt-force trauma, “The Beast” has another thing in mind. The former SSC-R Golden Stag instead gets under opposing players’ skin. It begins mildly with “shenanigans,” and then moves onto trash-talking, full-blown altercations, thrown elbows, and before you know it, technical fouls and fines.
GlobalPort forward Jay Washington summed it up best. “He plays hard for his team but at the same time all that dirty shit is unnecessary.” Washington would know. He was there during last conference’s semifinals game two between the Batang Pier and the Aces, where Abueva was right in the center of an incident that led to a whopping 13 technical fouls being handed out.
Here’s another example. Remember the “nga-nga” antics he made, referring to Ginebra team manager Alfrancis Chua?
Or how about when Jared Dillinger almost choke-slammed him?
Washington is right. The “dirty shit” is unnecessary. At the same time though, that willingness to bend the rules just shy of the breaking point is what makes Abueva so special, what ignites a fire under Alaska.
Even though his actions result in boos and jeers, they bounce off Abueva like bullets off Superman. In fact they actually super-charge him, sa crowd talaga siya kumukuha ng lakas.
BEAST NG BAYAN
And yet, The Beast is changing (yeah, just sorta put away the GlobalPort incident aside).
The same things he does that get one team cheering and the other team booing, everyone wound up on the side showering him with praise during the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.
After all, Abueva is the kind of player that thrives in hostile environments. He loves taunting legions of fans (hi Ginebra!) and cranking up his energy several notches in crucial games. Prior to the FIBA tourney, one game that stands out to me was during the William Jones Cup against hosts Chinese-Taipei, as Abueva put on the full show, complete with tongue-sticking-out-greetings to the home side’s fans.
As a result of all this, going back to the PBA, there’s more respect being given to him by fans, because they’ve all gotten a taste of how it is to cheer for Abueva. Boy, does it taste good.
THE BEAST IMPACT
There’s also one more thing that’s been changing with regards to Abueva.
Statistically, Abueva is not just good, he’s damn good.
With four seasons under his belt, the Beast still has an average stint of just 23 minutes per game. Why? A mix of foul trouble, “shenanigans”, and out-of-control moments.
The team is also used to deploying Abueva off the bench to provide a spark, and to beef up the Aces’ second-unit.
But what if he played more often?
Seriously, how would it look if Calvin Abueva got June Mar Fajardo-type minutes?
For one thing, Abueva’s per-36 minutes stats have always been great. Last conference, they were a stunning 22.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.4 blocks in the PHL Cup elimination round (zero starts). Those are awesome numbers for a 6’1” forward!
However, in the on-going Commissioner’s Cup, Aces coach Compton has switched up Abueva’s role. Prior to their game against the Meralco Bolts, Abueva has already started in eight of the nine contests. In other words, no need to imagine how he’d fare with more minutes.
Abueva has four games already with a usage rate higher than 30 percent, with an average at 29.4 percent. And just what is he doing with those extra touches? Why he’s shooting the ball, and connecting at a career-best 42.9 percent from downtown, to boot. Consider this: after hitting 23 triples total through his first three seasons, Abueva is already at 20 in 2015-16. For his troubles, Abueva recently just bagged a PBA-leading third Player of the Week award too.
The brash, cocky Abueva may be a difficult mental image to shake off. But more and more, he’s been putting in the work to make his image more palatable to fans, while still grinding away for the Alaska Aces. If you still think of Abueva in negative terms (that GlobalPort incident and the resulting techs were pretty bad), that’s understandable. However, take a longer, deeper look, and realize that there’s plenty of beauty, in this Beast’s game.