Welcome to The Rewind, where the Humblebola team looks back at the past and talks about details only a few may have noticed.
Neal Tieng already had his sights on Bright Akhuetie the moment the big man transferred to the UP Fighting Maroons. It was a story that was far too juicy, and it’s remained so two years after. But some details may have been forgotten throughout this entire process.
Let’s Rewind, and make sense of who Bright Akhuetie is, and what he brings to a school that hopes for a brighter future.
It was a headline that immediately created hope among the UP community: Bright Akuhetie commits to UP Fighting Maroons.
After just two colorful seasons, the 6’8” Bright Akhuetie expressed his desire to empty his Altas locker, declared free agency and sent heavy feelers across the UAAP that sent universities with championship dreams in a mad scramble to snatch probably one of the best centers out of the NCAA then.
As La Salle was thought to initially have the inner lane to grab Akhuetie after showing up in some practice sessions, it came as a good surprise that he changed directions and went to Diliman instead.
The hype and excitement could be felt immediately. But what exactly does the Bright Akhuetie bring to the Fighting Maroons?
Bright immediately brings height and power down low for the Fighting Maroons. He was a double-double threat nightly then for the Altas (18.4 PPG, 12.4 RPG), a welcome addition to a UP team that’s ranked below average in most rebounding stats over the last two seasons with Coach Bo Perasol.
His length also gives the Fighting Maroons a solid backline to its defense, as he averaged 1.7 blocks per game back then with the Altas. His sheer presence inside was a big help in disrupting the airspace of opponents, and his efforts helped in the Altas becoming the stingiest defensive team in the NCAA. They limited opponents to just 34.2 percent field goal shooting while allowing just 64.7 points per game.
The package comes with more bonuses. Akhuetie inside offensive efficiency topped NCAA Season 92 shooting charts with an impressive 60.3% clip from the field making 103 out of 167 tries. This prudent inside offensive machine’s prolific shot creation is complemented with a respectable 61 percent free throw shooting rate. All of this makes Akhuetie a threat both on the field, and hacking him isn’t a viable option.
No doubt about it, Bright is an elite talent. But there’s a caveat to all of this: Akhuetie’s attitude.
In the crucial turn of the Season 91 of the NCAA, the Altas fanned the flames of the pre-season hype and came within sniffing distance of a championship after a title-worthy elimination round. During the last game of the second round, Perpetual Help marched onto the battle for 3rd place against Mapua on September 23, 2016. It was an all important game if the team wanted to avoid having San Beda as your semi finals foe. There was a catch: Akhuetie wasn’t going to play in the crucial contest.
Reports later surfaced that the star Perpetual import defied instructions to participate in drills and which unleashed the dragon in Coach Nosa Omorogbe. As heated words turned physical, broken chairs and bent broomsticks were enough for Perpetual officials to ground the prized Nigerian import.
This became Perpetual’s defining point of the season, and it also dealt the final whammy on the Altas – Bright relationship.
Mapua wiped out a 17-point Altas lead and pulled the rug under Perpetual. Akuhetie’s absence was felt, as Allwell Oraeme and Joseph Eriobu danced on the Altas’ graves by collaborating for 24 points and 30 rebounds to clinch the all-important battle for placings.
Although the suspension was lifted in time for the semi-final face off against eventual titlist San Beda, the apparent damage has been done. Akhuetie’s last game as a Perpetualite was a dismal eight points and 10 rebounds in a winner-take-all Final Four game against San Beda.
That suspension wasn’t the end of it with issues surrounding Bright. During a game in the PCBL Chairman’s Cup in 2016 with the Mighty Sports team, he was involved in a post-game commotion against a Jumbo Plastic player. Akhuetie accused the Jumbo Plastic player of poking him in the buttocks, something considered as ‘out of bounds’ in his belief, but the event was certainly not a good look for the mercurial Akhuetie.
Akhuetie finally donned the UP jersey in some pre-season tourneys with the Filoil Preseason Cup garnering the most attention. Excitement was at a high regarding the debut of Akhuetie, but there was something evident from the get-go: he gained weight. The big man struggled to keep pace, with Bright and the Fighting Maroons starting out with a three-game skid versus La Salle, Ateneo, and the Gilas Cadets team. Two steps slower and the in advent of being predictable, the dominating Akhuetie of the NCAA seemed like an image of distant past. His ability to address a collapsing defense inside the paint was nowhere to be found, as the former scoring stalwart was looking like a turnover machine.
“Less than 45 percent” was the response of the Nigerian foreign student-athlete when asked on his progress towards reaching his 2015 playing shape that dominated the NCAA headlines.
Shape was just a part of Akhuetie’s lingering problem. His ability to control his passion has often led to either an ejection or an outright brawl. In the Republica Cup where UP battled UST for the title last April 8, 2017, Akhuetie reacted after getting the bad end of a call and got thrown out with a full half left to play.
Although UP held on to win 100-91, Akhuetie’s contributions were almost zilch.
The most recent incident occurred during a tuneup game between the Fighting Maroons and the MPBL’s Muntinlupa Cagers. Once again, it centered on Bright, as the Cagers mobbed Bright after a couple of physical plays.
You still can’t deny the level of talent Akhuetie brings to the table. He’s an automatic MVP candidate the moment he steps on the court for the Fighting Maroons because Bright Akhuetie is simply THAT good. But there are questions that continue to linger the talented beast.
Will Akhuetie be collecting honors or will we be keeping track of ejections and technicals and, God forbid, brawls? Will Bright Akhuetie be a start towards greater things for UP, or will he instead be a Trojan Horse to this developing program? Will Bo Perasol be able to tame this wild horse and transform him into an indispensable asset for Diliman? Will this be the BRIGHT future that will put an end to a 30-year title drought?
The Iskos now hold their collective breath. The rest of the league waits in anticipation. Questions linger, but the potential cannot be denied. Bright Akhuetie, the behemoth known for his prolific slams, will finally be in the UAAP this Season 81.