SJ Belangel and RJ Abarrientos have been drawing comparisons to great Gilas Pilipinas point guards Jimmy Alapag and LA Tenorio following their remarkable performances for the men’s national team just recently.
The two turned many into believers when they took turns running the one for the youthful crew, first in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers’ third window in Pampanga and then in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia.
Belangel, 22, etched his name into Gilas lore when he made a wild buzzer-beating three-pointer to stun South Korea, 81-78, in the ACQ opener, giving the Philippines its first victory over its long-time tormentors in eight years.
That shot gave flashbacks to the trey made by Alapag versus SoKor in the 2013 FIBA Asia semis, which was among the finishing touches en route to the 86-79 win that sent the country back to the World Cup after 36 years.
That shot also preserved the efforts of Abarrientos and Co. The 21-year-old came off the bench and helped his side trim the 17-point deficit before halftime, and momentum shifted to Gilas after the break, setting up the close affair.
The youngest Gilas Men unit ever assembled eventually swept all three of their assignments, including another win over the Koreans to cap off the tilt. And that made practically an entire nation excited about the future.
Belangel posted per-game averages of 7.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists, while Abarrientos notched 8.3 points, 3.7 assists, and 1.3 rebounds in definitely a campaign to remember for Tab Baldwin’s wards.
They then brought their wares to the OQT. Though they lost their two games, it was a trip that will surely be talked about for a long time as the Filipino dribblers came just minutes away from upsetting world no. 5 Serbia.
Even Alapag and Tenorio have taken notice of the floor generals. The former PBA MVP said that Gilas’ point guard position is in good hands with the two, while the latter stated that they are already better than him.
Such comparisons are usually downplayed by younger players, but not for Belangel and Abarrientos. In fact, they actually embrace it.
“For me okay lang, since idol na idol namin ‘yun growing up pa lang,” Belangel told 2OT, presented by SMART.
“Mga kuya talaga namin ‘yun. Back then pa lang, nasa province pa lang kami, pinapanood na talaga namin.”
“Lalo na ako since bata pa lang ako, sinasama ako ng lola’t lolo ko ‘pag may game si Tito sa PBA,” added the nephew of all-time great Johnny Abarrientos.
“Siyempre nakakalaban niya sina Coach Jimmy, sina Kuya LA.”
The current UAAP collegiate standouts feel extremely honored to be even mentioned in the same breath as their decorated idols.
“Ngayon na kino-compare na kami, great privilege talaga. It’s an honor for us. So for us okay lang, since idol na idol na idol talaga namin ‘yun, kami ni RJ,” Belangel expressed.
“Siyempre n’ung time na ‘yun, may dala pa ‘kong candy, kumakain ako sobrang dugout, ‘yung mga ganun,” said Abarrientos.
“Tapos ngayon, sobrang special kasi ikino-compare kami sa dating napapanood ko lang.”