COACH Bo Perasol had asked for Bright Akhuetie’s help to find possible reinforcements for University of the Philippines when the Nigerian native played for Mighty Sports under Perasol in the Philippine Commercial Basketball League last year.
In a stunning turn of events, Akhuetie ended up joining the Fighting Maroons instead.
“Naging player ko si Bright sa PCBL and in fact tinatanong ko siya kung sino ba ‘yung mga kakilala niya (possible recruits) at that time,” Perasol told Malaya-Business Insight yesterday.
“Ang alam ko may mga kakilala siyang mga Nigerian that we were looking for as imports sa UP because I know na maganda naman ang inilalaro niya sa Perpetual.”
Perasol yesterday confirmed Akhuetie’s transfer from Las Piñas to Katipunan, giving the Fighting Maroons a 6-foot-8 double-double machine. Under UAAP rules, UP needs to wait another year before it can field Akhuetie.
Akhuetie lead the Altas to a semis stint in the last NCAA basketball tournament where they finished the eliminations with an 11-7 card for fourth. He played a vital role as the Altas stunned eliminations topnotcher San Beda 87-83 and forged a knockout battle for a finals slot.
The Red Lions, however, battled back and ousted Perpetual 76-63 en route to a finals sweep of Arellano U.
Akhuetie, who had a two-year stint with the Altas, figured in a heated argument with Perpetual coach Nosa Omorogbe, himself a former Perpetual player, which led to Akhuetie’s one-game suspension just before the semis.
Soon after, rumors spread that Akhuetie wanted out of Perpetual.
“Late last year, may mga kaibigan ako na nagsasabi na si Bright ay gustong umalis sa Perpetual so I confirmed it within him. Sabi ko ‘Bakit?’ Napabalita rin na nag-away sila nu’ng coach, ‘yung mga ganoong bagay, so we asked the school management (of Perpetual) kung ire-release ba nila. Pinag-uusapan daw nila ‘yun,” Perasol recalled.
“Kinausap ko siya and siyempre ang challenge doon ay may iba din na kumakausap sa kanya at siyempre malalaking basketball programs ‘yun,” Perasol said, referring to La Salle and Ateneo, which had also expressed interest in Akhuetie.
Perasol, 43, convinced Akhuetie that if he chooses UP he will play a big role in the Fighting Maroons’ bid to become a factor anew in the UAAP.
“Ang ginawa ko ipinaliwanag ko sa kanya na malaki ang maiko-contribute niya sa pag-angat ng programa, malaking bagay ‘yung presence niya at ‘yung impact niya sa team ay napakalaki talaga,” Perasol said.
“Kinausap na rin naman namin ‘yung management nila (Perpetual) and eventually, ni-release din siya para sa amin.”
Perasol told Akhuetie that opting to play for UP will make him a vital piece in the Katipunan-based dribblers’ bid to end a 31-year title drought.
“Ang challenge ko talaga sa kanya is when you go to those schools with big programs, you’ll be one of those players. Siguro ang nakikita ko lang ay nakita niya rin siguro, ‘yung pagkakataon na maging valuable sa isang programa,” Perasol said.
“Kung pumunta siya sa La Salle or Ateneo, ilang beses ng nag-champion ang mga ‘yun pero ang UP, kailan pa ba ‘yun? In the last few decades talagang masama ang katayuan ng UP sa basketball so siguro he took it as a challenge na malaki talaga ang trabaho pero kung magagawa mo naman, malaki din ang maiiwan mong legacy sa eskuwelahan.”
Considered as one of the country’s best foreign student athletes, Akhuetie, 20, made it to the Mythical Five selection of the last NCAA basketball tourney. He will be eligible to play for the Maroons only in 2018, during the final playing year of core players Paul Desiderio, Diego Dario, Jarell Lim, and Kyles Lao.
“Kaya nga, sakto kasi by that time magiging mature na ‘yung mga players na nandiyan and kung madadagdagan pa kami ng makakasama niya kasi hindi naman niya magagawa ng mag-isa so ang importante ‘yung mga kasama niya ay magiging mature din para maging magaan ang trabaho,” Perasol said.
Coming off their best season in 10 years after posting a 5-9 card, Perasol said the logical goal for UP next season is to fight for a semis slot.
“Ang pinaka-logical siguro na i-aspire namin for next season, in Season 80, ay to be in contention sa Final Four,” Perasol said.
“Hindi siya magiging madali kasi naging maganda ang performance namin last season, hindi siya madaling i-achieve siyempre kasi lumalakas din naman ‘yung ibang teams. Nandiyan pa rin naman ‘yung powerhouse na La Salle, ang FEU lumalakas, ang Ateneo mas lalong lalakas ‘yan at ‘yung Adamson so hindi madali but for us ‘yung ang logical objective,” he concluded.