By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

DESPITE their acquisition of All-Star forward Calvin Abueva in a surprise trade early this week, the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok are still out to strengthen their frontcourt further by way of the rookie draft.

Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said that while the arrival of Mr. Abueva from the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters was a welcome development for them, they recognize that the upcoming draft presents an opportunity to still shore up its front line and they want to capitalize on it.

“We still need another big player and we’re looking at the draft,” the champion Magnolia coach was quoted as saying in Filipino by the league website.

Mr. Abueva was sent to the Hotshots on Wednesday from the Fuel Masters in exchange for guard Chris Banchero and Magnolia’s first (sixth overall) and second round (18th overall) picks in the PBA rookie draft this year.

Also part of the deal is the Hotshots getting Phoenix’s first-round pick (10th) in the March 14 draft.

The “Beast,” as Mr. Abueva is dubbed for his aggressive play on both ends of the court, joins the Magnolia frontcourt of Ian Sangalang, Jackson Corpuz, Rome Dela Rosa, Aris Dionisio, and Rafi Reavis.

Veteran Marc Pingris is still with the team, but his status remains uncertain as he is still recovering from calf and foot injuries and is reportedly weighing on retirement.

Mr. Abueva is coming off a solid outing in the PBA “bubble” tournament last year, where he averaged 15.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.7 steals and was in the running for best player of the conference.

His stellar play helped Phoenix to come within a win away from barging into its first-ever Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) finals appearance.

Making his performance more impressive was that he was suspended by the league for 16 months for conduct unbecoming of a professional and actions detrimental to the league and yet in his return, he was still his all-around self.

“We all saw in the bubble how focused he (Abueva) was. He played well and carried himself better. And I admire him for that and my respect for him as player grew,” said Mr. Victolero.

“He did not play for a long time and yet his performance was like that. And the thing about him is that he brings so much to the game, not just the stats, but also the intangibles and hustle plays,” he added.

But the Magnolia coach said they feel they can still improve their frontcourt, which is why they are studying their options in the draft to put in good use the 10th pick they got from Phoenix in the Abueva trade.

“There are many bigs who have applied for the draft. We are looking at some of them and have invited them to our practices beginning next week to see them up close. Hopefully, they are still available when it is our time to pick,” Mr. Victolero said.

Among the aspirants, Magnolia is looking at Santi Santillan and James Laput from La Salle, Larry Muyang from Letran, and Ben Adamos from Perpetual Help.

Meanwhile, despite the departure of Mr. Banchero, the Hotshots’ guard rotation remains formidable with Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Justin Melton, and Jio Jalalon still around.