"The Beast on three," RJ Jazul shouted inside the Angeles University Foundation Arena.
"One. Two. Three. The Beast!"
Usually, Calvin Abueva is the one who leads the shouting to end the practices of Phoenix Super LPG, but this one was different.
Jazul, one of the team's veterans and a long-time teammate of Abueva, wanted to change it up and make "The Beast" feel that the entire team is behind him.
The Fuel Masters were having their last practice before playing against the NLEX Road Warriors on Monday.
During their last game, they scored a magnificent come-from-behind win against the Magnolia Hotshots with interim head coach Topex Robinson expressing his emotions during the post-game press conference. Robinson fought back tears as he explained how difficult it was to go into games while leaving one of his "sons" behind at the hotel.
Two days later, their prayers were finally answered as Abueva was finally given the go-ahead by the PBA to suit up again.
"We've been in constant communication with the PBA because we're always asking for updates," said Phoenix Super LPG team manager Paolo Bugia. "Then earlier we were told that Calvin will be allowed to play so Coach Topex stopped practice for a while to tell the team that they're getting their teammate back."
There was a short celebration but it quickly died out as the team went back to business mode. They got "The Beast" back but now the pressure is on.
"I couldn't explain what I was feeling. I was so excited but I wanted to remain focused," said Abueva in Filipino. "It's been a while since I've played, now I'm playing for the first time tomorrow. I just don't want to fail my teammates. I just want to contribute."
Abueva saw his coach battle tears while talking about him and he admitted that he was also taken aback.
"I wasn't expecting Coach Topex to say that but it's true. It was difficult to stay behind at the hotel when they were leaving to play but I stopped focusing on my feelings and just thought of my family. I needed to stay positive for my family and stay ready because I know my teammates need me."
It's been a long road back for Abueva who has not seen action in the PBA since June 2 of last year. While his teammates and the rest of the PBA players had to shake off a few months worth of rust due to the lockdown, Abueva will basically have just a day to prepare for his first game back.
For Robinson, seeing what Abueva went through over the past year has convinced him that he's a changed man.
"He's more responsible now. He realizes what he lost and he knows what else he could lose. He values what he has now," Robinson said. "He has an opportunity to inspire others and let this experience be his greatest teacher. I've seen his highs and lows. I know he's grateful to the Commissioner's Office for giving him this opportunity. It's a blessing for me and the team and we're all excited to see him back."
However, Robinson remains cautiously optimistic about the situation as he does not want Abueva's return to take them away from what they've been doing so well this conference.
"I reminded the players that Calvin is just a part of us, he's not who we are. He's not going to come and save the day but it'll be nice to have him there," he said. "They were full of energy when they heard about Calvin playing. We celebrate, yes, but having Calvin won't give us a win."
For Bugia, what he's seeing from his team on the court, and especially off it, makes him believes they are on the right track.
"It was really very touching," he said about Robinson's handling of Abueva's situation.
"From management's side, that's all we could really ask for: to see a coach who's very passionate not just for his job but for the well-being of his players. The way he handled this team and the way he talks to the players, he always preaches family and now we feel our family is complete."