Rhenz Abando, UST eager to put controversy behind them

ANTIPOLO - Rhenz Abando had mixed emotions when he stepped back on the court for UST on Saturday. His last few days had been marred with controversy, as reports of other schools trying to recruit him have surfaced following his benching in the Growling Tigers' win against UP last Wednesday.

Both Abando and UST coach Aldin Ayo have since cleared the air, saying that the 21-year-old budding star has no plans of leaving the team.

"There's a part of me that's happy, there's a part of me that's sad because the negative side comments are not helping," Abando said in Filipino after their game against NU. "But my teammates are there, they're talking to me like nothing happened. They're telling me to have confidence and ignore what the others are saying."

Abando, a transferee from the Philippine College of Science and Technology in Pangasinan, relied on his teammates' help to move past the stressful ordeal, although he noted that he's gone through worse problems when he was younger.

"This is not the most difficult challenge that I encountered because I've been through worse when I was still in the province, such as financial problems," said Abando. "I didn't find this as difficult because my teammates got my back. What I went through when I was a kid helped me become stronger so this is nothing to me."

Abando received warm applause from the crowd when he checked in early in the second quarter against the Bulldogs. He struggled with his shooting, hitting only one out of seven attempts from downtown, but he still churned out nine points and five rebounds in less than 17 minutes of action to help in the Tigers' win.

Before the tip-off, Ayo advised his player to just play his usual game and leave all the distractions off the court.

"All of us do that before we start our pre-game preparations," said Ayo. "I always tell them that whatever you're thinking off the court, leave it behind and focus on the game at hand."

Ayo explained his stand on recruiting players -- whether out of high school or a transferee -- which for him is perfectly okay if done in the offseason or if the player being recruited is not happy with his team.

"For me, there's nothing wrong with recruiting high school graduates and even transferees. There's no problem with that if the kid wants it," said Ayo. "For instance, he's not happy with the team or he's not getting minutes and he wants a better opportunity. That's acceptable."

"But in the case of Rhenz, he has everything, which means he has a spot, he has a big role. He's playing well," Ayo continued. "Everything he needs, we're trying to give him. There's no problem with that (recruiting), but it should be done in the proper way."

Ayo wants to put the issue to rest, especially as the Growling Tigers are hoping for a strong finishing kick that will allow them to secure a spot in the Final Four, and even clinch a twice-to-beat incentive. As it stands now, they are sporting a 7-5 record, just lurking behind the second-seeded UP (6-4).

"We're going to deal with it the Thomasian way. You hate the sin but not the sinner," said Ayo. "Let's forget about it. But if there's something that can be done to prevent it in the future, that's better."

Ayo acknowledged, however, that it will be difficult to put policies in place to prevent the so-called poaching of players in the middle of the season.

"Even Atty. Rebo (Saguisag, UAAP Executive Director) will have a hard time coming up with a measure to prevent that," said Ayo. "If ever, it has to be discussed for a long time because of the many loopholes."

Abando, for his part, also want to completely move on from the controversy. He reiterated his commitment to the Growling Tigers and expressed his appreciation to the Thomasian community for their continued support.

"I will stay here until my collegiate career ends," said Abando. "I've been feeling their support since the start and it's the same now. I loved UST more because of their support. I get a boost of energy because of them."