Practicing at least three weeks behind everyone else, the Meralco Bolts have a lot of catching up to do before the start of the PBA’s 43rd season. With time of the essence, head coach Norman Black agreed to a tuneup game between the Bolts and Alab Pilipinas of the ASEAN Basketball League, a team coached by Jimmy Alapag.
“Jimmy asked me for a game as he wanted to prepare his team for their next game and I’m also trying to get my team in shape,” Black explained.
The two teams played in 10-minute quarters while using a combination of FIBA and PBA rules. The teams also got the chance to use the Molten ball that is used in the PBA and the Li Ning balls used in the ABL.
The undermanned Meralco squad ended up losing, 87-76, to Alab Pilipinas who were led by Ray Parks and imports Ivan Johnson and Reggie Okosa.
“I was using Bryan Faundo and Jason Ballesteros to guard Ivan Johnson so it’s a difficult task for them but when we get Ranidel (De Ocampo), Reynel (Hugnatan), and Cliff (Hodge) back, obviously we’ll be better inside the paint,” Black said. “I don’t really put too much emphasis on the result of the game today but I hope we helped them out. It gives us a gauge of where we are and where we need to go.”
Meralco’s struggles to contain Alab’s big men is a familiar situation for them in last season’s Philippine Cup. The Bolts finished 11th last season as they found it difficult to address the hole in the middle both on offense and defense.
The franchise made moves to address this situation in the next two conferences like adding De Ocampo. In the offseason they added four players who can help with their campaign.
“We started practicing later than most of the teams and in terms of signing up players, we were also a bit late but we have some new faces,” said team manager Paolo Trillo.
“Nico Salva, KG Canaleta, Jason Ballesteros, and Mac Baracael are now with us. They replaced Joseph Yeo, Jonathan Uyloan, and Kelly Nabong,” he went on.
“Coach Norman wanted to address some needs in terms of the positions. We were a bit short at the small forward spot last conference so now we’ll have players who could fill in, especially when Cliff slides into the power forward position in the all-Filipino.”
While the additions of these four players have plugged in holes in the team, they’re also patiently awaiting the return of some key players from the injured list.
“Four guys are out right now. Cliff and Reynel played hurt during the finals. They had bone spurs removed, Reynel on his knee, Cliff on both ankles. Ranidel is still nursing the injury he sustained in the finals. And even Ken Bono was injured in our last practice,” Trillo stated.
“Reynel is a bit ahead maybe by a week or so but as of now it’s still a question if any of those guys will be ready for our first game. We’re still not in top shape but we’re doing our best to prepare for our game which is tentatively scheduled on the 22nd.”