Let’s Bolt In
by rick olivares pic by kc cruz
For Meralco Bolts head coach Ryan Gregorio, he is looking to build on his team’s semifinals finish in last season’s Governors’ Cup.
The past three years have been a difficult road to travel. The journey from an expansion team to a middle of the pack squad to eventual PBA champion has been filled with triumphs (short-lived ones though), disappointments, unexpected turns and signposts pointing towards their destination.
“I cannot look back,” he says with a passion. He adds that he isn’t jaded by the championship drought. “If you look at Rain or Shine, it took them six years before they tasted victory. It’s important that you grow and make gains every time you step on the floor.”
One of those twists and turns in the revolving door of players.
Since the 2010-11 Philippine Cup, 49 local players and six imports have worn the colors of the Meralco Bolts in the PBA. That’s an astonishing 55 players in 10 conferences; quite a lot in a short time.
In every conference, they’ve always made personnel changes making it somewhat in my opinion difficult to develop any sense of continuity or chemistry.
In their very first PBA conference, the 2010-11 Philippine Cup, this was their lineup: Shawn Weinstein, Nelbert Omolon, Yousif Aljamal, Chris Ross, Dennis Daa, Mark Cardona, Gabby Espinas, Marlou Aquino, Ogie Menor, Pong Escobal, Bambam Gamalinda, Beau Belga, Ford Arao, and Asi Taulava.
A few games into that conference, they brought in Hans Thiele and Chris Pacana.
When the Commissioner’s Cup tipped off, they made even bigger changes by adding Sol Mercado, Renren Ritualo, Mark Isip, Erick Rodriguez, and Reynel Hugnatan.
In the season ending Governors’ Cup, they brought in Erick Rodriguez.
And it has been like that ever since.
Cumulatively, they’ve posted a 59-72 record (.450%) in that time span (that includes their last outing that resulted in a loss to Alaska) and booked a semifinals appearance once.
They’ve had a lot of good players wear their team colors before they were shipped off to another club where they now play key roles -- Gabby Espinas, Beau Belga, and Mark Isip are a few names.
“I think it’s a process of trying to find a team with the right kind of mix,” said first year Bolts’ manager Butch Antonio who defended his team’s personnel moves. “It really wasn’t easy. Some might be good players but we didn’t have the right kind of chemistry. But I believe that right now we have a core that we can build around.”
And true enough, this season, the Bolts have reloaded and let go of their go-to player in Mark Cardona (now with Air21 where he has reunited with college coach Franz Pumaren) by putting together a more dynamic attacking force that includes Gary David, the streaky John Wilson, the intense Jared Dillinger, the steady Mike Cortez, and the moody but talented Rabeh Al-Hussaini.
“I believe we are close to getting the team that I believe best represents us,” noted head coach Ryan Gregorio. “We’ve got us a nice mix of veterans and young players. Now the challenge is to mold them into a team and hope we stay healthy.”
Kerby Raymundo who played for Gregorio when he was with Purefoods has joined the team but is at a crossroads as he out with a knee injury. “He is a big loss,” underscored Gregorio. “When healthy, Kerby can do so much for any team. But that’s life and that’s basketball. We cannot make that as an excuse. We have to build on what we have.”
Gregorio also discussed the personnel moves through the years: “Given the roster we’ve put together, I envisioned we’d compete. It didn’t pan out the way I thought. We would compete right up to end but have often fall short in our end game. Other teams have not only gotten better but much taller and they’ve beaten us black and blue. Sometimes, I give more minutes with a small team. Sometimes we are able to ambush others but other times, no.”
Looking at the stratospheric frontline of Barangay Ginebra or even Petron, Gregorio recites the age-old hoops truism: “Height is still might. With the influx of tall and skilled players like Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, Ian Sangalang, and Raymond Almazan, we’ve seen a shift in the PBA game. You really have to compete with that now.”
“I thought that we’d be able to keep Asi Taulava or even have Kerby Raymundo. But not having them and they still have a lot to give to the game has hurt us. But we’ve stocked on some draft picks and we have a young core of Cliff Hodge, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and John Wilson to go with our solid veterans like Jared Dillinger, Gary David, and Mike Cortez. Reynel Hugnatan always gives 110%. We need a little more help in the height department though.”
When I asked if he isn’t done with adding personnel, Gregorio had this to say, “You are always looking to get better. If the opportunity to improve presents itself, we are always willing to listen. That’s just all part of the game.”