Abando ready for EASL

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star
Abando ready for EASL
Rhenz Abando.

No PBA team is represented in the EASL Final Four that reels off at the Hoops Dome in Cebu on Friday but theres a Filipino standout whos suiting up for the Anyang Jung Kwan Jang Red Boosters and Rhenz Abando is sure to draw a lot of attention from local fans watching the two-day hostilities.

Abando, 25, played for UST and Letran in the varsity leagues then moved to the Korean Basketball League where his popularity zoomed after winning the Slam Dunk competition and seeing action on the 3x3 All-Star Game title squad and the Anyang team that took the championship last season. The high-leaping, Samboy Lim play-alike suited up for Gilas at the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup, FIBA World Cup Asia qualifiers and 2023 FIBA World Cup. In Gilas’ 96-75 win over China at the World Cup, Abando had 14 points and five rebounds in 24:19 minutes as he played a critical role off the bench to back up Jordan Clarkson.

A certified crowd favorite wherever he plays, Abando suffered a lumbar fracture during a KBL game last December and was out of commission for over two months before returning to action for Anyang last Sunday. He sat out 18 contests and the Red Boosters lost 15 in that stretch. In his much-awaited comeback, Abando compiled 17 points, four rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes as Anyang beat Goyang Sono, 92-87. The Philippine Ambassador to Korea Maria Theresa Dizon-De Vega was in the venue to witness Abandos heroics. Embassy officials and Filipinos in the Anyang community came out to show support for Abando. “The support of the Filipino fans is a great help,” he said. “The Embassy people came so I’m even happier that we won the game.”

Abando said hes about 85-90 percent fit. “There is pain when leaning over,” he said. “I hope that after sleeping for a day, the pain will go away and I can play in the EASL.” Anyang battles the Seoul SK Knights in the EASL semifinals on Friday and if the Red Boosters win, theyll advance to the final on Sunday with a $1 million cash prize awaiting the champion.

Before going down, Abando had played three games in the EASL, averaging 15.7 points as a starter. Under EASL rules, teams are allowed to play two imports together plus an Asian heritage recruit. Anyangs two imports are 6-9 Robert Carter of Georgia Tech and University of Maryland and 6-7 Jamil Wilson who played for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017-18 and Converge in the PBA Commissioners Cup this season. Other mainstays are 6-1 Ji Hoon Park, averaging 10.3 points and 5-11 Seong Won Choi, averaging 14.2 points and shooting .708 from beyond the arc. Anyangs coach is Kim Sang Shik, a four-time KBL champion who piloted the squad to the EASL Champions Week crown last year.

The EASL Final Four squads are Anyang, Seoul, Chiba Jets and New Taipei Kings. The Jets are coached by John Patrick of Stanford and the Kings by Ryan Marchand who worked in video operations with Minnesota and Orlando in the NBA. Seouls coach is former Korean national player Chun Hee Chul.

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