If Meralco has been nothing short of consistent in the import conferences, the same cannot be said in the opening cup of the PBA.
It’s been two years since the Bolts played in the playoffs of the All-Filipino Conference, but head coach Norman Black is hoping things would turn around in the 2017-2018 season despite despite lacking the presence of a domineering big man.
“We haven’t done well in the past two All-Filipino conferences so we have to be a lot more competitive this time around,” said Black Wednesday at Meralco Gym. “We just have to play it out and see what happens.”
Meralco’s combined record in the All-Filipino record for the past two seasons is a paltry 4-18, with the 2015-2016 conference ending with just one victory.
The Bolts, however, had been elite status in the import conferences going 30-14 in the four cups including two finals appearances in the Governors’ Cup.
“My small guys are competitive, even our big guys are competitive so I’m not taking anything from them, but we don’t have a June Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, Ian Sangalang, or Raymond Almazan, and that’s pretty much the big difference in the All-Filipino.”
Meralco’s main big men are veterans Ranidel de Ocampo and Reynel Hugnatan, who have a combined 27 years of PBA experience between them, but neither have the same inside presence as the players Black mentioned.
Both de Ocampo and Hugnatan are stretch fours and don’t have the same legs underneath them compared to the likes of four-time Fajardo, Sangalang, or Almazan.
Compounding Black’s worries is de Ocampo’s calf injury that he suffered in the semifinals of the 2017 Governors’ Cup that kept him sidelined for the last four games of the conference’s championship round.
De Ocampo, Black said, won’t be starting the season and the earliest he can return is early January.
Black said the first way to improve a team’s big man depth is through the draft, but the 32-year coaching veteran doesn’t want to go through that approach.
“We want to be competitive throughout the entire year and not just the All-Filipino Conference so we just set out and work as hard as we can,” said Black.