MANILA, Philippines – The Meralco Bolts are reuniting with big man Rabeh Al-Hussaini after the former UAAP MVP signed a new, one-year deal with the PBA franchise on Wednesday, August 12.
Bolts team manager Paolo Trillo confirmed this to Rappler on Thursday, August 13.
“His previous contract that we had with him expires on the 31st [of August], so what we did was we signed him to a new one-year contract,” Trillo told Rappler.
The upcoming PBA season will open in October.
Al-Hussaini’s situation has been closely followed by the public, but the specific details have not been clear.
In May 2014, the former second overall PBA draft pick took a leave of absence from the Bolts to fix his citizenship issues in Kuwait. What was originally expected to be just a 10-day trip wound up longer, and Al-Hussaini hasn’t been seen in the PBA since.
“It’s disappointing,” was what former Bolts head coach Ryan Gregorio told Rappler 13 days after Al-Hussaini’s 10-day leave had passed. ”I cannot hold back on things like that. I have lofty plans for him. I’ve traded key players just to get him on board, for him to be part of our team in the future.”
“Actually, he did ask permission from the management [to work on his dual-citizenship],” Trillo said about Al-Hussaini’s departure last year, “but he was only expecting 10 days to two weeks. When he got there, he experienced all these difficulties. He was told he would have to extend and stay for a year.”
Trillo said the 6-foot-7, former Ateneo Blue Eagle also had to deal with family issues while in Kuwait.
Al-Hussaini was still under contract with Meralco for the 2014-2015 PBA season, but didn’t play a single minute. His new one-year deal, in essence, is to make up for the recent PBA season he just missed, according to Trillo.
“The year that he didn’t play for us, we just extended it for this year,” said the team manager, who added: “So it’s like we just pushed his contract up a year.”
Airing his side
The Bolts and Al-Hussaini are also planning a meeting with the PBA Commissioner – though Trillo didn’t specify whether it would be Chito Salud or incoming new commissioner Chito Narvasa – for the 27-year-old big man to air his side of the story.
“He has to visit the commissioner. We’re trying to schedule a meet with the commissioner so we can air and explain his side,” said Trillo, who mentioned that the Bolts and their returning player are going to accept whatever sanctions the Commissioner’s Office may impose.
With regards to Al-Hussaini’s performance on the court and determination, Trillo said Bolts fans can expect a motivated version of him the upcoming season.
“He’s in good shape right now. He looks the same as when he left, although he’s been working out regularly. I think the long offseason will give him time to get in game shape,” said the team manager.
“He looks determined to come back and prove himself based from our talks with him. He’s already apologized to management, He knows he has to prove himself all over again, and he’s willing to do that.”
Trillo also said that it was Al-Hussaini who insisted on a one-year deal so he can prove himself first before asking for a longer deal.
The Bolts recently traded for PBA star Jimmy Alapag, who’s coming out of retirement and switching from being Talk ’N Text’s team manager to Meralco’s leader on the floor and guiding voice - a task he will share with head coach Norman Black.
Al-Hussaini, who was coached by Black in Ateneo where the two won two UAAP championships in 2008 and 2009, is expected to remedy one of Meralco’s weak points: their lack of big man depth.
“Obviously, one of the problems we had with last year was the size factor,” said Trillo. “Definitely, he’ll give us help. Rabeh will come in as the biggest player we have. Definitely he’ll be a part of what we’re doing this year.”
When asked if Al-Hussaini’s return meant veteran Danny Ildefonso would not get a new contract with the Bolts, Trillo said that decision still hasn’t been decided.
“Actually what happens right now is guys are all competing for positions,” said the team manager.
“I’m not really saying he’s not coming back, although we just let go of James Sena. We traded two players to get Jimmy (Mike Cortez was the other one). It depends on how things work out.”
After a fruitful first season that saw him average 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds a game with Air21 and Petron - good enough to win him Rookie of the Year - Al-Hussaini’s numbers saw a dip in production.
In his second year his averages dropped to 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds a contest while having to deal with a torn ACL injury that sidelined him.
Before leaving the Bolts for Kuwait, he averaged 5 points and 5 rebounds a contest in 23 games. – Rappler.com