There’s added pressure being the nephew of an all-time great.
RJ Abarrientos isn’t shy to admit as much, now that he’s being mentioned alongside his uncle Johnny — undeniably one of the greatest to ever do it — more often after introducing himself to the world via Gilas Pilipinas.
“Laging may additional eh, para sa’kin, ‘yung pressure,” the crafty floor general told 2OT, presented by SMART Wednesday.
“Kasi siyempre, knowing Johnny Abarrientos, the Flying A, one of the best players in PBA history.”
The 21-year-old is actually a third-generation cager. Besides the 1996 PBA Most Valuable Player, RJ is also the nephew of Virgilio ‘Billy’ Abarrientos — who first made a mark in Philippine basketball during the 60s and 70s.
So, being in such a lineage would understandably bring pressure to someone who’s still trying to carve his own path. Fortunately for RJ, though, his Tito Johnny is always there, reminding him not to mind it that much.
“Pero siya rin nagsasabi, si Tito, na hayaan mo lang, laruin mo lang kung ano ‘yung nilalaro mo ngayon. Hayaan mo ‘yung mga tao,” he said.
“Kasi ganun talaga e. Example nga, ‘yan, kino-compare kami [ni SJ Belangel] kina Jimmy Alapag, kina kuya LA Tenorio — ganun din ‘yung kay Tito. Kumbaga, gawin mo ‘yung part mo, and then ‘wag kang makukuntento.”
So Abarrientos simply did his thing when he made his debut for the youth-laden men’s national team three weeks ago. And he left a trail of impressed heads afterwards.
The 5-foot-11 playmaker helped Gilas sweep the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers’ third window in Pampanga, a campaign best remembered for their twin victories over long-time tormentors South Korea.
The former FEU Baby Tamaraw notched 8.3 points, 3.7 assists, and 1.3 rebounds. He also suited up in all three of their games in the Clark bubble.
Abarrientos carried over his solid play for the Filipino dribblers in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia. There, they nearly pulled off an upset versus the hosts, then gave the Dominican Republic a tough match before bowing.
Now, he looks to learn from those experiences and become better. Just like what his uncle has been constantly reminding him.
“‘Yun lang ‘yung sinasabi niya lagi sa’kin. I-improve mo kung ano ‘yung meron ka ngayon, dahil siyempre, pataas nang pataas ‘yung level ng basketball ngayon eh,” said Abarrientos.