ANTIPOLO -- "Ako po si Rhenz Abando. Galing La Union."
Those were the first words, all softly spoken, out of Rhenz Abando's mouth in his first post-game conference after his first game for University of Santo Tomas in his first season in the UAAP.
Safe to say, he was not used to being under the spotlight.
Months later, however, the 21-year-old was in all of the headlines -- and not because of his impressive game.
Instead, questions arose about Abando's commitment to the Growling Tigers as he found himself in the middle of controversy.
According to reports, the 6-foot-2 forward was in street clothes in their game against the University of the Philippines last Wednesday due to a decision by team management.
Up to two days after that, his status remained up in the air as head coach Aldin Ayo, team management, and the school itself were yet to clear the air with him.
And of course, everybody else had their thoughts on what was happening -- and quite a few were only happy to share them.
Amidst all that, though, Abando was not worrying at all. "Hindi ito 'yung pinakamahirap na pinagdaanan ko kasi mas grabe pa 'yung pinagdaanan ko nu'ng nasa probinsya pa ako," he shared.
The UST wing came from Philippine College of Science and Technology in Pangasinan, but actually was born and bred in La Union.
And there, humble beginnings molded him into the man he is today. " 'Yung mga pinagdaanan ko nu'ng bata ako, 'yung financial problems, ganu'n, mas tumibay ako dun so parang wala na lang din 'to," he said.
Along with that, Abando drew strength from the full faith his teammates still had in him amidst all the reports and rumors. As he put it, "Itong nangyaring 'to, di ako nahirapan kasi nand'yan lang 'yung mga teammate ko. Nasa likod ko lang sila."
He then continued: "Siyempre, 'yung mga side comment na di maganda di nakatulong sa akin, pero 'yung mga teammate ko, nand'yan lang sila at sinasabihan ako na dapat, parang walang nangyari."
That was even truer when the rising star finally returned to the black and gold lineup in their matchup opposite National University, Saturday at Ynares Center here.
From the moment he was sent in at the 8:45 mark of the second quarter until the final buzzer when he was still part of the five on the floor, Abando said all of UST made him feel they had his back. "Sabi nila, kumpyansa lang at 'wag ko nang intindihin 'yung mga nangyari, mga sinabi. Kumpyansa lang," he said.
And that goes not only for the players, but the community and his fellow student-athletes as well. "Maraming-maraming salamat sa kanilang lahat kasi sinusuportahan lang talaga nila kami. Mas lalo akong napapamahal sa UST dahil sa ganyang suporta," he said.
And for all of them, Rhenz Abando vowed to stay under the spotlight -- under the spotlight with the Growling Tigers, that is. "Dito lang ako hanggang matapos ang collegiate career ko," he expressed.
He then continued, "Apat na taon pa!"
This story was originally published on the ABS-CBN Sports website.