#ThrowbackThursday: Calvin Abueva, Beast of Baste by Mico Halili

Ladies and Gents, SLAM PH presents “THROWBACK THURSDAY”.  Every other Thursday we look back on past articles in the mag and post it here on the site for your reading pleasure. Just in case you didn’t get to grab one of the back issues, (which is a mortal sin) you can check out the site on said dates for some past local content. First up, we have “Beast of Baste” from our Editor-at-Large, Mico Halili.

Beast of Baste from ish #150

San Sebastian’s Calvin Abueva doesn’t demand your respect. He just needs you to get out of his way.


Calvin Abueva’s boyhood idol was Robert Jaworski. This article can end right here. It’s really all one needs to know.

The end.

But my assignment is not to submit a haiku. My assignment is to explain how San Sebastian’s Calvin Abueva can win this season’s NCAA MVP award with minimal outside shooting and less-than-stellar footwork. In roughly over a thousand words. How do we unlock the mystery? He’s 6’3″. Yet he plays like he’s the tallest man on the floor. Or maybe he feels the exact opposite. Using roughly over a thousand unseen moves – a slight push, a little arm-grab, some sly out-maneuvering – he reaches out for rebounds like he’s the shortest dude on the court. Without raw rage, minus a funky form of insecurity which actually delivers results, he feels he is nothing.

I ask Calvin how he tallies double-doubles, to explain the process as best he can. He politely replies, “Hindi ko alam.” Fair enough. In his method to madness, I can believe no science is required. Other rebounders approach the basket. He assaults. Like a predator. Fans and haters alike have seen the sequence too often: he pops out of nowhere to snatch an offensive rebound, takes a shot, misses, inexplicably grabs another rebound, misses again, generates a third jump, rips someone else’s ear in the process, records a third offensive rebound in a span of 5 seconds, scores a put-back, is fouled, completes his mission.

Abueva is somewhat self-trained. As a young boy in Angeles, Pampanga, he followed a routine. He would watch Jaworski on television at night. By noon the next day, he would mimic what he saw on television on the cement courts of Bayanihan Park. It was a simple, inexpensive way to earn a basketball education. Observe how The Big J became one of the PBA’s best rebounders of all-time, try your best to duplicate legendary grit with your pals. “Naglalaro kami kahit tanghaling tapat,” Calvin recalls. “Naka-tsinelas lang. Pag-uwi sa hapon, ang dumi-dumi na namin.”

So the number 7 on Abueva’s back is more than just a tribute to Jaworski. It’s a statement. To love what makes the game hard. To go 5-on-5 on burning cement. To be like the guy who played pro ball until he was 50. To find happiness in causing discord. To embrace what others hate. Like Sonny J. Like the relentless pit bull Abueva has developed into.

Calvin, after all, is already legendary at playing “screw you” basketball. Screw my height. Screw your height. Screw your team. Screw your school. Screw the score. Screw the odds. Screw whatever hallowed traditions your university has. Screw your basketball pedigree. Screw your more expensive shoes. Screw your better-paid coach. Screw your training in the US. Screw your fans. Screw your face.

In return, Abueva hears it all. The boos. The jeers. He claims they don’t hurt. It acts like fuel. “Once na inaasar ako, lalo akong gaganahan,” he says. “Papakita mo na aggressive ka talaga sa paglalaro mo. Tsaka hindi ka napipikon sa mga tao.”

Abueva’s über-confidence drives opponents up the wall. Opponents like San Beda Head Coach Frankie Lim. Calvin says Coach Frankie badgers him during heated San Beda-San Sebastian games. He remembers most of the on-court dialogue but refuses to share them. I ask what kind of trash-talk Coach Frankie dishes out. He smiles, scratches his head and replies, “Mga bad words.”

Yet Abueva doesn’t claim he’s oppressed. He’s no boy scout on the hard-court anyway. It’s easy to single him out. Spot the player who rebounds like a mad-man, the player who rebounds in-the-air and on-the-floor, the player who acts like the baddest cat in the building, and proceed to shower him with insults. Just be ready to watch him repeatedly,  obnoxiously nod his head after and-one baskets, power-play put-backs, one-against-three rebounds, as if to tell a hostile crowd, “Boo yeah! Sucka!”

“Sa crowd siya talaga kumukuha ng lakas,” Gilbert Bulawan, Abueva’s former teammate in San Sebastian says. “Lalo na ‘pag kalaban, binoo-boo siya. Lalo siyang lumalakas.”

When opposing fans make it tough for Abueva, they actually make it tough for their own guys. Abueva, as a direct effect of taunts, becomes harder to box-out and tougher to contain. Boo louder, he’ll push with a little more force. Curse louder, he’ll foul with a little more intent. Hand-to-hand combat suddenly becomes more obvious. His forearms, elbows, knees and hips quickly become more pronounced. Like new-found weapons of hoop destruction. He becomes, for the opposing team, a bigger pain in the ass.

“Tactics din yan,” Bulawan, who waged many cage-match caliber ball-games alongside Abueva, admits. “Kumbaga para ma-distract ang kalaban, gagawa ka ng paraan. Yun ang naiisip namin na paraan para masira laro ng kalaban.”

Do unto others what you’ve been programmed to do to each other. Bulawan fondly remembers team scrimmages of the past. “Kapag nag-eensayo kami dati, depensahan talaga,” Bulawan recalls. “Sa practice, walang kaibi-kaibigan, walang teammate-teammate. Talagang pahirapan kami sa isa’t isa. Naalala ko pa nung bago si Calvin, veteran na ako ‘nun, pinaparamdam ko talaga sa kanya yung physical nature ng game. Tirahan din. Every practice, walang time na hindi siya bumabagsak. Para matuto siya. Para magka-confidence siya.”

It’s a kind of self-assurance that pushes Abueva to regularly flirt with double-doubles for the NLEX Road Warriors (his team in the PBA Developmental League). In one PBA D-League game, he tallied 12 points and 8 rebounds, by halftime. Each basket accompanied by swagger. Each rebound matched with bravado. Nasty stuff.

It is, therefore, surprising to hear Abueva’s reservations about joining the PBA Rookie Draft. Petron Blaze (formerly San Miguel Beer) Head Coach Ato Agustin, Abueva’s former coach in San Sebastian, already wanted the 23-year old to join the Blaze Boosters. But Abueva basically told his old mentor, “Not yet boss.” He wants to develop a jump-shot and some pivot moves first. He’s also worried about joining a rookie draft crowded by Gilas standouts. The plan is to continue terrorizing the NCAA for at least one more season and join the PBA in 2012 or 2013. Good news for opposing fans who can’t stop shouting at Calvin. Bad news for other NCAA power-forwards who share Calvin’s territory.

Coaches refer to gritty guys like Abueva as “Salbahe”. Not so much because they’re mischievous. But because they compete with savage intensity. Nakikipag-patayan. Calvin acknowledges the need to refine his offensive game. He also knows it can wait. More urgent matters need attention. There’s a possible rebound in the air. There’s a loose ball bouncing aimlessly on the floor. Like Jaworski before him, this number 7 is ready to go Lyoto Machida on anyone’s face to grab what’s his – a rebound, an extra possession, a season MVP trophy, an NCAA championship.

And so we know;

The end. MH