Arnold Van Opstal or AVO will play for the De La Salle University senior varsity basketball team in the UAAP next season and along Taft Avenue, the word is he’s the Great Green Hope.
Van Opstal, 18, stands 6-9 on his bare feet and weighs about 230 pounds. He’s muscular, athletic and intelligent. Not too many players his size can do what he does on the court – dribbling behind his back and between the legs, shifting the ball from left to right without faltering, putting it on the floor to drive to the hole, shooting nearly flawlessly from the line and drop-stepping effortlessly to the basket.
No doubt, the Fil-German has the goods to make an impact as a rookie in the UAAP seniors even after playing only a year with the La Salle Zobel juniors. He was offered an athletic scholarship by at least four UAAP schools but stayed loyal to La Salle.
Van Opstal’s father Heinz was the former PAL general manager of Europe and died in 2006. His mother Luzviminda Llantero of Albay is director of the Authentication Division and head of the Machine Readable Passport Personalization Center in the Office of Consular Affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs. His brother Christopher, 23, is a lawyer and summa cum laude graduate of the University of Technology in Sydney.
Born in Germany, Van Opstal attended kindergarten and Grade 1 at La Salle Zobel before relocating abroad with his parents and brother as a boy. The Van Opstals lived in Bonn, the Hague, Berlin and Sydney, following his mother’s foreign postings.
A year after his father passed away, Van Opstal moved to Manila where his mother was recalled from Sydney for a home assignment. While in Manila, Van Opstal stood out in public places because of his height and once, as he ate at California Pizza Kitchen in Alabang with his mother, the waiters tipped off restaurant owner Jack Rodriguez about the extraordinarily tall youngster.
Rodriguez, who played for the La Salle varsity with the legendary Kurt Bachmann in 1959-60 and 1960-61, is always on the lookout for prospects to beef up the Archers. Told about Van Opstal, Rodriguez quickly checked him out and took him under his wing. Van Opstal, who discovered basketball only four years ago, re-enrolled at La Salle Zobel and made it to the junior varsity for the 2008-09 season. He would’ve been Rookie of the Year but was disqualified on account of an ejection for retaliating during a game against UST.
Van Opstal took a year off from basketball to finish his studies at Zobel last school-term as some of his Australian credits weren’t honored. Now, he’s done with high school and practicing with the Archers.
Every day, Van Opstal pushes himself to the limit in the gym. He lifts weights in the morning then practices with the Archers in the afternoon and works out two hours with shooting coach Dave Brodett and his son Anton in a private court at night. The hard work is paying off. Van Opstal is on his way to becoming a dominant player in the UAAP and La Salle’s answer to Ateneo’s 7-foot center Greg Slaughter who joins the Blue Eagles next season.
“I wouldn’t be working so hard if I didn’t enjoy it,” said Van Opstal whose first sports were football, swimming and track. “I love basketball. My dream is to play in the NBA. If I don’t make it to the NBA, just being able to play in the NBDL would be a big achievement. Maybe, I could also play in the Euroleague or the PBA. At the moment, my focus is playing for La Salle. I think we’ve got a solid team. Our nucleus will be together for four or five years. If we win the championship next season, I think it’ll be smooth sailing after that. I’m learning a lot from coach Dindo (Pumaren) and my teammates. I don’t know too much about the rivalry with Ateneo. I just like to play the game.”
Van Opstal said he’s never watched Slaughter play. “I heard he’s very good,” he mentioned. “I’m looking forward to matching up with him. As far as my game is concerned, I’ll try to keep improving. I want to make basketball my career. I’m prepared to do what it takes to succeed.”
Van Opstal said in the NBA, he likes New York’s Amare Stoudemire and in the PBA, he admires James Yap for his smooth style. At La Salle, Van Opstal is trained by Dan Rose for strength and conditioning and taught big man moves by assistant coach Tonichi Yturri.
In private skills lessons, Van Opstal does shooting drills with Brodett, a former San Beda and Crispa star, with emphasis on proper alignment, extension and follow-through. Brodett’s son Anton, a St. Benilde assistant coach, works on specific skills like dribbling, posting up, drop-stepping, fielding outlets and attacking the rim.
“Arnold is the future of Philippine basketball,” said Rodriguez. “I think if he keeps his head in place, he’ll go far in his basketball career. He’s a good kid, very protective of his mother. He works very hard and has a positive attitude.”
Van Opstal’s mother often watches at the sidelines when he does his drills at night. “He’s very focused,” she said. “He loves to play. He eats a lot, like two chickens or two steaks in a meal, but burns everything in the gym. He’s also a milk junkie.”
Anton Brodett said he’s working to improve Van Opstal’s lateral movement, dribbling ability and coordination. Some of Van Opstal’s drills are dribbling every which way up and down the court, catching an outlet to dunk without putting it on the floor, throwing up a hook shot from the side and curling towards the basket from a low post position. To improve his coordination, he catches a tennis ball with his free hand while his other hand dribbles a ball – moving from left to right hand. He also practices gripping the ball while Brodett attempts to slap it away. Another drill is dribbling two balls at a time. For a big man, he’s adroit and fundamentally sound – like a Tim Duncan.
Van Opstal’s for real. He could be the next Big Difference in Philippine hoops.