RJ Abarrientos is straight up fun to watch. Jagged crossovers. Slick assists. Fearless forays to the rim. And the jumper stays wet. His is probably one of the most eye-catching games of anyone his age. Flip through his highlights at the FIBA 3×3 U-23 tournament last year and it’s like watching an AND1 mixtape.
Everybody already knows that famous last name. Johnny Abarrientos is as big a cult hero in Philippine hoops as just about anyone. As much as RJ sticks out among his peers, he’ll always be seen in the light of his uncle. The parallels are unmissable, after all. Both of them are slight, spitfire guards, albeit with contrasting styles. The current Baby Tamaraw has also already committed his future to FEU, setting up the same trajectory The Flying A once had.
In spite of the inevitable comparisons and endless references to his uncle’s status coming his way, RJ isn’t trying too hard to set himself apart; instead, he’s setting his sights on simply becoming the best player he can be. Leaning on his uncle, who he says has been like a father to him, has done nothing but give him the guidance to harness all of his potential.
“Number one talaga yung tito ko. Siya yung palaging nagmo-motivate sa akin, siya yung naging parang friend ko na rin, siya yung palaging kinakausap ko. Sinasabi niya kung ano ang mga kailangan kong gawin, minimulat na niya ako sa tamang way. For ups and downs, siya lagi,” he said.
RJ also has a wealth of knowledge to tap from his current coach, Olsen Racela, and from a proud lineage of flame-throwing FEU guards. After his uncle, the likes of RR Garcia, Terrence Romeo, and Mike Tolomia held the same responsibility – and the pressure that comes with it – that RJ is going to have to bear for the Tamaraws as well.
“Para sa akin, kung kaya nilang gawin, kaya ko rin. Kung ano man yung ginagawa nila, siguro iyon ang kailangan ko pang trabahuin kahit nandito pa lang ako sa Juniors,” said RJ.
For him, that begins with holding the mantle for his team, not in terms of taking charge or dragging them along on his rise to the top, but in understanding how to best fit in among them. For all the flash in his game, there’s an unselfishness at its heart.
“Sobrang important talaga sa akin ang team, na buo kami. Hindi ko naman iniisip na ako yung pinakamagaling eh. Role player lang ako sa team, at pinapakita ko lang ang best ko palagi para kung sinuman ang makakakita sa akin, sana gayahin din nila,” he said.
There’s a fire that erupts whenever he plays, and that comes from a tremendous drive to push the limits of his ability. “Siguro yung biggest learning ko sa buong career ko – di ka puwedeng maging makontento kung ano ka man. Kung magaling ka na, di puwede na magaling ka lang.”
Where RJ’s headed, he has a lot to live up to. But the basketball gods have blessed him with raw talent, the best possible mentors, and an unteachable flair. Whatever happens, it’s guaranteed to be a spectacle.
The SLAM Rising Stars Classic will be held on March 31, 7PM to 9PM, at the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong. The game will be aired on ABS-CBN Sports via livestream.