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Reynel owes it to Black

MANILA, Philippines — Meralco forward Reynel Hugnatan is in his 14th PBA season and will turn 39 next Friday but he’s feeling like he’s never felt before in his long pro career with Game 7 of the Governors Cup Finals set to unfold at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan tonight.

Hugnatan has played on three title squads, once with Coca-Cola under coach Chot Reyes and twice with Alaska under coach Tim Cone. He knows the vibes of being in the Finals and would like nothing more than to win a first-ever crown for Meralco. Besides, his last championship came in 2010 when he was still with the Aces so another jewel is way overdue. 

Standing in Meralco’s way to the throne is Barangay Ginebra with Cone at the helm. In the same conference last season, Ginebra beat Meralco, 4-2, in the Finals. Both teams are back in the fray with the same imports as Meralco looks for redemption and Ginebra for retention.

Hugnatan hasn’t started a game this conference and in the first two games of the Finals, scored only two points. But since Ranidel de Ocampo went down with a calf injury early in Game 3, Hugnatan has stepped up to average 17 points.  In the Finals, he’s shooting 48.7 percent from beyond the arc. He compiled 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists in Meralco’s 98-91 win over Ginebra in Game 6 before an all-time record crowd of 53,642 at the Philippine Arena last Wednesday. The victory paved the way for a winner-take-all Game 7.

Hugnatan said he’s dedicating his title crusade to his parents in Bacolod, his teammates who haven’t won a title, the bosses in the Meralco organization, the Bolts’ fans and Meralco senior vice president Al Panlilio. After Game 6, his father Raymundo and younger brother Ryan texted to say they’re flying in from Bacolod to watch the closer at the Arena tonight. The oldest of four, Hugnatan said he owes Meralco coach Norman Black for giving him the freedom to shoot the three.

“When coach Norman came to Meralco, he encouraged me to shoot and told me don’t hesitate,” said Hugnatan. “I’m always ready. I stay in condition, go the gym, work out. It doesn’t matter how many minutes I play. All I know is when I’m called, I’m ready to play. In the Finals, during timeouts, RDO gives me advice and guides me. He tells me when to shoot, when to drive depending on who’s my defender. I’ve been working on my outside shot and I’m glad my perimeter game is helping our team in the Finals.”

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Hugnatan said of all the imports he’s played with, Allen Durham is No. 1 with Diamon Simpson a close second. “Walang topak, he listens, he has great attitude and works hard,” said Hugnatan. “Playing with him is very memorable to me. I think this is the best experience in my PBA career. Imagine playing before 36,445 fans in Game 5 then 53,642 in Game 6.”

In Game 7, Hugnatan said defense will decide the winner. “No excuses in defense unlike in offense,” he said. “We have to play smart, to work as a team on both ends. We have to cover and help each other out. I played about four years with LA (Tenorio) at Alaska and I know what he’s capable of. He’s Ginebra’s leader, that’s why he’s called Teniente. We just can’t let him get his points. Chris (Newsome) is his defender and has the advantage in speed and height.”

Hugnatan said playing under Reyes, Cone, Ryan Gregorio and Black has given him valuable experience. “Coach Chot taught me to be aggressive, to play with heart,” he said. “Coach Tim taught me the basics, discipline and the triangle system. Coach Ryan looked out for me, gave me confidence and was like my brother. Coach Norman taught me the value of working hard and playing my role within the team concept.”

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