For Fil-Jordanian big man Samuel Abu Hijle, Season 92 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Junior Basketball wars could end up to be another great, and even better year.
It turns out that he’s playing slightly better than how he played last season, as he led the Red Cubs back into the Final Four, and possibly another finals stint(something that veteran scribes Theodore Jurado and Joey Villar would be happy to take note of).
He will have a fitting birthday gift on the eve of his 19th birthday on Oct. 1, if the Red Cubs hurdle the Arellano University Braves on Friday, Sept. 30, in the start of their Final Four campaign.
(Sam Abu Hijle).
The 6-foot-3 Sam Abu Hijle finished the elimination round with an 18-game average of 13.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists, who was slightly better than in Season 91 (note: his average last season was 11.94 points and 9.28 rebounds).
This was after he tallied a double-double performance of 10 points and 10 rebounds in the Red Cubs’ 92-74 triumph over the Braves in their final game in the elimination round last Sept. 19 at the FilOil-Flying V Center in San Juan.
“Nagpa-pa condition ako before every game. I have extra work sa practice, kaya magi-improve ako every game,”said Abu Hijle when I caught up with him early in the season.
He talked about his game on July 25, the day he played his season’s best of 30 points and and 14 rebounds.
Sam’s knees got bruised up in a physically challenging encounter with the San Sebastian Staglets and the Red Cubs prevailed, 74-66, for win no. 6.
After that, Abu Hijle’s game went down, as coach JB Sison made him lay low, for around six games.
(Mark Lagumen (19)).
He emerged with what could probably be his second best output on Game 12 of the Red Cubs, who defeated the Lyceum Philippines University Junior Pirates, 80-66, on Aug. 22.
He had 27 points and 13 rebounds in this game, which proved to be among the turning points of the season.
This is because the Junior Pirates were on the verge of getting knocked out of contention, and La Salle Greenhills was then getting sure of their status in the Final Four.
- San Beda 74, LPU 66
The Junior Pirates stayed close with the Red Cubs until the last two minutes of the third, when they managed to come back from a 46-56 deficit.
A 6-0 comeback from charities Chester Jungco, Junjun Cecilio and Francis Ruiz saw the Junior Pirates threatening by four, 52-56, in the last 1:22.
They stayed close on another 6-0 spurt from Erlan Umpad and Jungco, 60-64, with 6:54 to go in the fourth.
Then Abu Hijle took control of the boards, with his two big baskets in the last 3 minutes helping send the Red Cubs back ahead with a 14-2 run that gave them a 16-point spread with 57 ticks to go.
His layup did the trick as San Beda went on to nurse an 80-64 spread in the remaining time.
- The Final Four and the Red Cubs
Now that the season is almost over, Abuhijle is emerging as one of the most important players of the dominant Red Cubs.
(Germy Mahinay (left)).
With Abuhijle submitting team high numbers again in terms of points and rebounds, the reigning seven-peat champion San Beda clinched the first Final Four berth with a 17-1 win-loss record.
This is Abuhijle’s second year playing for the Red Cubs since 2015.
He spent time in Team B in the previous years.
Just like last year, He even showed how ready the Red Cubs were to defend the crown when San Beda-Taytay made it to the finals of the Palarong Pambansa secondary boys basketball action while representing the Calabarzon region.
They eventually won the gold.
(Note: on Sam’s exploits in 2015, here’s a link to a feature story I did on him in season 91. http://thestandard.com.ph/sports/189762/fil-jordanian-gives-red-cubs-added-bite.html).
- Getting to know Sam
Abuhijle has come a long way from where he started six years ago.
He joined organized sports as a 10-year-old playing football while in school at 7 Pillars Catholic School in Sta. Rosa Laguna.
Friends took notice of his height and introduced him to the game of basketball. He started playing pick-up games and immediately got hooked.
“Mga barkada ko sa school ang nagyaya, Laru-laro lang. Larong kalye. Doon nagsimula,” he said.
He joined the tryouts, became part of the grade school team and found himself playing for the elementary boys team of Calabarzon in the Palarong Pambansa.
- Current scenario
The La Salle Greenhills Greenies turned to the free throw line in the last 21.1 seconds to put away the Arellano University Braves, 79-76, in their playoff last Sept. 27.
Troy Mallinlin and Joel Cagulangan sank split free throws on fouls by Carlo Abadeza and Guilmer de la Torre in the remaining 21.1 seconds and 3.6 seconds respectively.
This sent the Greenies into a Final Four showdown with the Mapua Red Robins on Friday.
Sixteen year old Unique Naboa fired a gamehigh 21 points for the Greenies.
The Greenies made it past the playoffs for the second time in four years.