MANILA, Philippines -- Calvin Abueva is inching closer and closer to his return to the PBA, and the Phoenix Fuel Masters are keeping their fingers crossed that "The Beast" will soon gain clearance from the league.
Abueva joined Phoenix at the PBA's bubble in Clark, Pampanga last week, though he remains indefinitely suspended. He cleared one more hurdle on Friday when the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) decided to reinstate his professional license, pending a drug test and a seminar.
On Thursday, he joined the Fuel Masters in their first practice at the Angeles University Foundation Gym, a scene that interim coach Topex Robinson described as "surreal."
"Calvin is in his happy place," Robinson said in an appearance on "2OT." "Andito siya sa pinagsimulan niya, andito siya sa bayan niya, and what's important is andito siya sa PBA."
"Though there's no set date yet for his return, but the fact that the good commissioner allowed him to be part of this bubble is already a big win for us," he added.
Abueva has been giving his fans regular updates via his Instagram. On Saturday, he posted a post-workout picture that had fans applauding his fitness and wishing him well on his return.
Robinson, who took over the Phoenix coaching post upon the sacking of Louie Alas, says the team -- and Abueva himself -- is being patient as they wait for the decision of the Commissioner's Office. PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial has repeatedly stressed that Abueva still has some requirements to fulfill, after which they will study his case again.
"The Beast" has been suspended since June 2019 after a series of on-court incidents that culminated in a near-brawl with former TNT import Terrence Jones during a Commissioner's Cup game at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
Abueva has been open about the steps he is taking to make it back to the PBA. Aside from community service and a drug test, he is also attending counseling sessions.
The courtesy call to GAB, which came before they made the trip to Clark, served as a boost as the agency agreed that Abueva "was sincere enough to accept his wrongdoings and asked for an apology for his actions with a promise not to repeat the same mistakes."
"They're not really making it hard for Calvin," Robinson said of GAB's requirements, among which is for Abueva to attend a seminar on The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards of a Professional Athlete.
"Sabi ko nga, they're giving the kind of opportunity for Calvin. So whatever it is, if it's a Zoom meeting, Calvin will definitely do that. Sabi nga niya, 'Coach, nagawa ko na lahat eh, ngayon pa ba ako titigil?'" he added.
For Robinson, the wait will be worth it. In his own words, Abueva is "really a game-changer."
"What you see in games is Calvin in practice," Robinson said of Abueva, a former Rookie of the Year and the Best Player of the Conference in the 2016 PBA Commissioner's Cup.
"He gets everybody, he challenges everybody kahit minsan 'di mo na naiintindihan 'yung sinasabi niya. But the energy and the enthusiasm is there, so sobrang enjoy," he added. "I just love seeing him there, sobrang saya niya."
"That's the Calvin that we missed during the past year that he wasn't part of our practices," he also said. "Again, we're gonna take it from there. Sabi ko nga, just to see him practice with us is already a big win for us."
PBA teams are scheduled to practice at the AUF Gym until October 10. Games of the All-Filipino Cup officially resume on October 11, after having been suspended in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.