IF you go to the canteen at the Meralco Gym along Ortigas Avenue, the walls inside are filled with pictures of those great Meralco teams of yore.
Oh, you mean those Reddy Kilowatts? Reddy Kilowatts who?
If you weren’t watching basketball in the 1960s leading up to the early 1970s, then they might not ring a bell as they played in the old Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (Micaa), the precursor of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
The legends? They might sound plenty familiar if you’re an old-time basketball fan… Big Boy Reynoso, Jimmy Mariano, Robert Jaworski, Francis Arnaiz, Orly Bauzon, Lawrence Mumar and Fort Acuña, to name a few.
So they line the walls, panel by panel.
The new-generation Meralco squad…these Bolts…well, they have some familiar names themselves but they won their glory elsewhere. Now, they’re conspiring to lead this six-year-old franchise out of years of underachievement to the rarefied air of PBA champions.
Will the patience, rebuilding and hard work pull through this time?
Of course, it isn’t easy. The San Miguel Beermen, champs in three of the past four conferences, are looking to annex the second title of the season that will keep them on course for a—shhh—Grand Slam. Rain or Shine just dispatched Ginebra. Sister team Talk ’N Text is still filled with its savvy veterans who have won a smattering of championships. There are others too so you really cannot take any team for granted.
However, it should be said that two of the three teams that dealt the Bolts losses this conference are out—Ginebra and NLEX.
Meralco Head Coach Norman Black likes to point out to their defense that has gotten them to where they are—the semifinals. It is the second time, they’re in the final four and in the same conference as last season although they were bounced from the competition by Rain or Shine in three straight.
As far as Black is concerned, that is ancient history. This is a new team despite some remnants from last season. Furthermore, they have given a better account of themselves as they have held on to the top spot of the league standings all conference long. That says something about their overall game and their confidence.
They have a better import in double-double machine, Arinze Onuaku. Plus, they’ve got some pretty good rookies in Baser Amer and Chris Newsome.
They’ve got some championship pedigree. Cliff Hodge won a bunch with NLEX in the D-League. Amer and Anjo Caram won a lot with San Beda. Jimmy Alapag and Jared Dillinger played huge parts in those great TNT squads of the past few years. Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Ryan Buenafe won a lot while in Ateneo. Reynel Hugnatan was an integral part of some Alaska Aces title teams.
Smart players. Winners who know how to win. The trick now is to convert that into something positive for Meralco.
They’re not yet there but they are definitely on the highway leading to that.
The win over NLEX in the quarterfinals? For a while there it looked like the Road Warriors were going to extend the series to a win-or-go-home situation. After Simon Enciso hit a triple from halfcourt, it seemed like the floodgates opened for NLEX. They were literally firing on all cylinders.
Then Meralco came back. They hit some treys of their own and drove hard to the basket. They hit some big foul shots, as well. They never panicked and they came back from a huge deficit.
On the opposite end, they forced NLEX’s jumping jack of an import in Al Thornton to throw up a wild shot that you only see in the playground unless your name is Calvin Abueva.
When NLEX sorely needed a triple, they drew blanks.
Dillnger and Hodge supplied the energy. Along with Newsome, they drove hard at the basket. They grabbed some key offensive rebounds and reset the shot clock milking away precious time from NLEX.
And that formula for winning—Onuaku’s double-double (13 points and 11 rebounds) plus local support (Hodge, Hugnatan, Newsome and Dillinger each scored more than 10 points) equals a win. Make it a big win.
But they have merely repeated their feat from last season. For that to be ancient history, they need to advance.
Who knows where the Bolts will go from here?
All I know is some folks are itching to add some new panels to those pictures that line their canteen wall.