Friday, September 9, 2011

Rookie to watch, Dylan 'Super" Ababou of Barako Bull

‘Super Ababou’ would be Dylan Ababou, the Most Valuable Player of Season 72 of the UAAP. He led the league in scoring that year with 18.9 points per game, and added 7.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

“We have Super Ababou.”

After the UST Growling Tigers made the UAAP playoffs in 2009, the team’s coach Pido Jarencio explained to the media how his unheralded squad made it to the final four.

Coming off the moment of his greatest triumph, few would have blamed Ababou if he chose to join the PBA. But that same year saw the genesis of the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national team, and the rare opportunity to represent the flag internationally was something he could not pass up over turning pro.

Instead of getting valuable floor time, however, Ababou found himself nailed to the SMART-Gilas bench for most of the next two years. For the former UST superhero, his stint with the national team has been one long Kryptonite convention.

“SUPER ABABOU” — DOES he even like being called that?

“Okay lang, kasi nakasalamin ako, Clark Kent nga daw ako,” said Ababou in jest. The ex-King Tiger is known for his quick wit as the clown prince of SMART-Gilas.

Ababou was candid enough to express his disappointment over his lack of playing time during his national team stint.

“Actually, laging masama yung loob ko,” he said. “Kahit si [SMART-Gilas] coach [Rajko Toroman] mismo, alam niya masama ang loob ko, pero nagiging professional na lang ako. Hindi na lang ako nagrereklamo. ‘Pag pinasok ako ni Coach, binibigay ko na lang yung best ko.”

Ababou had once been projected as a vital member of the SMART-Gilas rotation. But the addition of more seasoned wing players to the team such as US NCAA Division I players Chris Lutz and Marcio Lassiter, and later, veteran shooting guard Dondon Hontiveros, meant that the former UAAP MVP had to settle for being just a third stringer.

“Nung dumating lang si Lutz and Lassiter kumbaga, mas nagtiwala si Coach Rajko sa kanila, tapos sila na yung ginamit,” Ababou noted.

Despite that, Ababou doesn’t see himself, skills- or talent-wise, as being far behind his more illustrious teammates.

“More experienced sila sa akin, Pero sa tingin ko, hindi naman [kami] masyado sobrang malayo,” he said “‘Di ko lang alam bakit talaga ako hindi ginagamit ni Coach.”

Still, he can’t help but find humor and irony in his situation.

“Sobrang hirap yun, kasi dati [sa UST], magkanda-puli-pulikat na ‘ko, hindi pa rin ako linalabas,” he said. “Tapos ngayon, pinupulikat na yung puwet ko sa bench.”

DESPITE A STERLING COLLEGE basketball career, his stint as a SMART-Gilas benchwarmer put Ababou out of heart and out of mind. You’re only as good as your last game, people say, and because the only playing time he got for most of his national team stint came during garbage time at the end of blowouts, Ababou’s stock in the 2011 PBA Rookie Draft plummeted.

He was drafted by Barako Bull at No. 10 — the last SMART-Gilas player to be taken. Picked ahead of him were players who had less-heralded college careers, Reil Cervantes and Allein Maliksi, who once served as a mere backup for ‘Super Ababou’ in UST.

For Ababou, it was just another in a long series of disappointments.

“Siyempre, nagulat din ako kasi ang forecast, No. 4 daw ako, or No. 7 or 8,” he said. “Tapos biglang naging No. 10. Hindi ko na lang inisip yun, sinabi ko sa sarili ko, wala sa draft ‘yan, nasa performance ‘yan sa court. So yun na lang ang inisip ko. Nagpaka-positive ako.”

Positive thinking — one has to wonder just how hard the budding professional has to work to have that kind of outlook in life. A look back at his early days reveals a story worthy of an episode of a television drama.

Ababou was raised by his late grandmother. His mother Rosemarie Rosales, who is in town to visit him for a month, left the country when Ababou was only seven years old. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband Frank Wodley, and their son Jason.

His biological father Rachid, meanwhile, is a retired Moroccan football player who now resides in Sweden with two children of his own.

Ababou has never seen his father, and was only able to talk to him online fairly recently.

“Nung 21-years old ako, nakausap ko siya, sa Friendster pa nun,” said Ababou. “Dati, [nasa] national team siya ng soccer, tapos yung dalawang anak niya ngayon [nasa] national team din, sa Sweden naman. Okay lang [kung magkita kami], walang problema.”

With his pedigree, it turns out, Ababou could have easily been a member of that other popular national team. But growing up without his mom and dad, basketball easily captured the young Dylan Ababou’s heart.

HE STILL VIVIDLY REMEMBERS what happened. He was an eight-year-old addicted to basketball, and some of his neighbors were making fun of him for being too young to play against them. Out of annoyance, one of the men threw Ababou’s green-and-white Milo basketball into the river beside their barangay’s outdoor basketball court.

With tears streaming down his face, he boldly walked up to the grown-ups and said: “‘Pag laki ko, tatalunin ko kayo.”

Ababou said that incidents like those elicited his passion for the game even more.

“Hindi mo na lang iisipin yung mga nangyari kasi thankful ka rin dahil, kung hindi nila ginawa yun, hindi mati-trigger yung fire in you,” he said.

For most of his life, Ababou has thrived in being taken lightly — in being underestimated. To him, being the tenth pick might work in his favor, as he isn’t expected to put in monster numbers right away. Which is not to say he won’t be giving his all as soon as the new season of the PBA starts.

“I always give my 110 percent,” he said. “Nagpapakamatay talaga ako sa court.”

For someone who’s been through numerous ups and downs in his career and personal life, the always-pensive contender on the court has always managed to come out and show everyone his wares, often leading his team to victory. And despite few expectations as the tenth pick of Barako Bull, don’t be surprised if he dons his cape and turns into ‘Super Ababou’ once more.

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