An electrical surge: The Bolts look to a better Philippine Cup campaign
by rick olivares
There’s excitement brewing inside the Meralco Bolts gym along Ortigas Avenue in Pasig City.
Fresh of their finals stint in the last Governors’ Cup, the Bolts are looking to test their new-found confidence and their additions that have strengthened their guard corps.
Their finals opponent and eventual champion, Barangay Ginebra clobbered the Meralco backcourt, hence, the upgrade.
To make up for the loss of team captain Jimmy Alapag who retired after the end of the last season, the Bolts drafted rookies Ryusei Koga, Jonathan Grey, and Ed Daquioag.
“Jonathan is a pretty smart player,” noted head coach Norman Black. “Hopefully, he can help us. Ed is a two-way player who can play either guard position. His athleticism and ability to see the floor will complement Chris Newsome. That’s the future backcourt right there.”
The Bolts, however, weren’t done. They brought in veteran guard Joseph Yeo whose range and ability to get to the rim will carve open spaces for those who deign to play zone on them.
However, more than the upgrade of their backcourt, the onus is on Meralco to keep their momentum going.
Momentum means regularly making it deep in the playoffs. Pundits may say that the Bolts only advanced deep in the Commissioner’s and Governors’ Cup due to their imports Arinze Onuaku and Allen Durham who both bagged the Best Import awards in the respective conferences. So the jury is still out if they can compete in the Philippine Cup without that dominating inside presence.
Prior to practice last Tuesday, November 15, Rabeh Al-Hussaini acknowledged the concern of the lack of the man in the middle. “My game will come,” he says with absolute conviction.
The old game when he was the UAAP’s Most Valuable Player while playing for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
The old game when he won Rookie of the Year with Petron Blaze during the 2010-11 season.
In truth he was on his way there when he suffered an injury that curtailed his last season with the Bolts. “Just need a little bit of time and that good game,” he promises. “I’ll be there.”
There were signs of a return to Al-Hussaini’s old high scoring ways when he gave the Bolts a massive lift of the bench during the recent finals. However, if Meralco’s coaching staff were to have their druthers, they’d also want Al-Hussaini rebounding and protecting that rim as well.
“Last season, we had to deal with injuries to Rabeh and Kelly (Nabong) that hurt our rotation,” said assistant coach Luigi Trillo. “Now they are healthy. The other person we need healthy is JD.”
“JD” is Jared Dillinger, their sleek jet fighter on the wings. His veteran presence, shooting, derring-do, and ability to guard the wing was sorely missed during that finals.
“It was killing me not to be able to play and to help,” quipped JD who is a few weeks away from rejoining the team after knee problems. “It’ll take me a few weeks to get my rhythm back but you bet I’m ready to go. We want to build on last year’s gains. And especially last conference.”
“Last conference.” The players from Cliff Hodge to Bryan Faundo all say they have moved on. “Learning experience for us,” suggests Hodge.
“If you’ve been around, you’ll learn to let go rather than beat yourself up for it,” adds Dillinger. “Tomorrow is another day and another game to play. We got ourselves another chance.”
Once the new season starts in a few days’ time, although they’ll stop talking about the last finals they’ll still bring up last year’s Philippine Cup when they went 1-10. “We definitely want to better that finish,” smiles team manager Paolo Trillo. “One small step at the time. But yes, we want to improve and not rest on last year’s laurels.”
“That’s a lot of motivation, brother,” throws in Nabong. “And a whole lot of hunger.”