This appears in the Monday, October 3, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.
by rick olivares
Following that massive 119-113 win over Talk ‘N Text last October 1, the Meralco Bolts put themselves in a great position to advance to its first ever PBA Finals stint.
The elimination round has been anything but smooth after what was a rollicking pre-season that saw Meralco steamroll opponents. Come the actual Governors’ Cup, the Bolts struggled and took some painful losses. They eventually booked a semi-finals slot that equals their placement during the Commissioner’s Cup where they were a minute away from also making the finals.
Now they are one game up on their sister team, a seemingly incredible position considering the Trop ran roughshod over opponents during the entire tournament.
The Bolts are a curious mix. You can say that many of their players have seen better days. Some have so-so careers, some were never even drafted while a select few are budding stars. Yet they have been playing grind it out basketball.
And all that was on display last Saturday.
The oldtimers Reynel Hugnatan and Jimmy Alapag scored 21 and 17 points respectively.
The unheralded in Jonathan Uyloan (who had his best game as a member of this team) and Bryan Faundo added nine and six points respectively.
While the young guns – Chris Newsome, Cliff Hodge, and Baser Amer – were solid. Newsome who had two of the best dunks this conference if not the entire season scored 16 points while dishing for a team high eight assists! Forward Cliff Hodge added 13 despite not rebounding well. And Amer, who has struggled in his rookie season, finished with 12 points.
American reinforcement Allen Durham finished with his usual workman-like 23 points and 13 rebounds.
It is Year Two of Norman Black’s plan to bring a first-ever title to Meralco and they would love nothing more than to arrive ahead of schedule. This team was overhauled before this season started and although their imports (Durham and Arinze Onuaku who suited up for the Bolts during the Commissioner’s Cup have played huge roles plugging that gap in the middle, the locals have really come to play.
It was all thought that Alapag ought to have stayed retired but he has rediscovered his shooting form that has been inspirational. Hugnatan has been old man reliable while the other bigs – Faundo and Kelly Nabong – have done a lot of the dirty work.
The rookies have been superb.
The one thing I have learned following the career of Norman Black is that it is always the darkest before the dawn. When he began coaching Magnolia during the 1986 season, they won only one game (during that third conference). In 1987, they won one championship. By 1988, the San Miguel Beermen were building towards the juggernaut it would become by annexing two more crowns. By 1989, they copped the coveted Grand Slam.
In 2000, he joined an underachieving and demoralized Sta. Lucia franchise and led them to the finals where they lost to an SMB team that reloaded and featured none of his former players. A year later, the Realtors won its first PBA championship.
Even with the Ateneo Blue Eagles, Black endured difficult seasons before leading the school to five straight UAAP titles. In his return to the PBA, he immediately won with Talk ‘N Text before moving to Meralco.
It hasn’t been easy with the Bolts. The first conference of this season was an unqualified disaster as they only won one title.
If you talk to Black, he will tell you that he never looks back at the past and only looks forward. Sure. But the man has made a name for himself for turning teams around. Think of it, he won one game with Magnolia in 1986 before he turned it around. Thirty-years later, his team is on the cusp of a finals berth an in the hunt for a title.
Now we will find out if his team can close it out. Whatever happens, watching Black and his team turn things around has been amazing. Now for Game Four.