The UST Growling Tigers have always been in the discussion when it comes to the UAAP Championship. With the exception of UAAP Seasons 79 and 80 – both which UST fans and alumni consider being the worst in their history – the Growling Tigers were always in the middle of the fight.
This enduring championship culture, has also produced dozens of household names that made it to the pro leagues and the national team. Players such as Bogs Adornado, Jeric Teng, Jervy Cruz, Alfrancis Chua, Pido Jarencio, Gilbert Lao, Dennis Espino and Bal David are just some of the basketball names that have made their mark in Philippine basketball.
If there’s one particular thing distinct to UST’s basketball program, it’s that they have been a breeding ground for spectacular swingmen. Long, lean, athletic, and with a wide array of skills on the court, these wings came into the UST program as young guns and came out as stars.
The list reads like a UAAP Superstar Roster. Cyrus Baguio. Jojo Duncil.
Khasim Mirza. Dylan Ababou. Allein Maliksi. Aljon Mariano. Kevin Ferrer.
Last season, they unveiled another – in the form of rookie CJ Cansino, who came straight out of their high school juniors program. Cansino impressed in his first showing in the seniors level, even tallying an impressive 20-point, 14-rebound, 10-assist triple-double at the expense of the UE Red Warriors.
Just when people thought he was the next in that list of España legends, another wing announced his entry to form a potential deadly duo with Cansino.
Enter, Rhenz Abando.
Hailing from Sto. Tomas, La Union, Abando has always dreamed of playing for Coach Aldin Ayo. Thankfully, his coach back in high school in Pangasinan, Christian Calaguio, was teammates with the former La Salle mentor back during their college days in Letran in 1998. It was as if this union with coach Aldin was always meant to be.
“Kahit nung nasa Letran ako, pupunta na sana si Rhenz. Even in La Salle, kukunin ko sana siya. Parang nilagay na ata ng batang to sa dibdib niya na kay Coach Aldin siya maglalaro. Grateful ako na nangyari sa UST,” shares the former back-to-back NCAA and UAAP champion coach.
Maybe it’s their provincial connection, that both this coach-player tandem proudly calls themselves “probinsyanos.”
Ayo adds, “Parehas kami ng background. Homesick sa pamilya at walang ibang sasandalan. Karamihan naman ng players ko probinsyano. We have that kind of bond.”
With all the attention on players like Ricci Rivero and Thirdy Ravena who play the same position as him, Abando was able to silently showcase his game in the summer, playing for the Tigers in the PBA D-League and the FilOil Flying V Preseason Tournament.
There was an instance during the FilOil tourney when UST went up against UP. Down by double digits, Abando hit three straight long bombs to quickly cut the lead and get UST back in the game. He didn’t miss a beat, quickly translating the same skills in his UAAP debut. Abando dropped 22 points built on five triples to surprise the UE Red Warriors and the rest of the league.
“Rhenz is very talented pero alam niya anong kulang niya at anong tatrabahuhin niya. Breadwinner kasi to, so when you have this kind of player, di mo na kailangang i-motivate yan,” Ayo proudly shared after their first win of UAAP Season 82.
Abando didn’t show any sign of nervousness or fear whatsoever in his first UAAP game. In fact, he was emotionless. He just did whatever Aldin asked of him. Shoot the long bomb with confidence, check. Push the pace if possible, check. Hound the offensive player in front of him, check. Disrupt the passing lanes for steals, check.
He continued to do that in succeeding games, slowly stepping out into the limelight as the a two-way superstar in the UAAP. Abando continued to play fearlessly. He was a walking highlight reel, swooping to the basket for high-flying layups, coming out of nowhere for crazy blocks, and hitting big shots when his team needed it the most.
Abando is swift, agile and determined. Just like a growling tiger.
When asked why he chose UST, Abando says: “Di ko rin alam. Pinagtagpo siguro.”
There’s just something about superstar swingmen and UST that makes obvious sense. The UST faithful couldn’t be more thankful Abando found his way to España.