Souped-up Bolts off to Vegas
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 30, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Preparing for the coming PBA campaign with a revamped roster, Meralco leaves for Las Vegas on Wednesday to set up a two-week training camp at the Joe Ambunassar Impact gym. The Bolts shook up their lineup in the offseason, trading Mike Cortez and James Sena to Blackwater, releasing Danny Ildefonso, Mark Macapagal, Jai Reyes and Ryan Buenafe, rehiring Rabeh Al Hussaini, signing up Jimmy Alapag and drafting rookies Chris Newsome and Baser Amer.

Team manager Paolo Trillo said the goal is to outdo Meralco’s 21-21 record last season where the Bolts finished sixth in the Philippine Cup, fourth in the Commissioner’s Cup and seventh in the Governors Cup. “We want to get better,” said Trillo. “We’re excited about this season. We know that other teams got better, too, so it’ll be a challenge. Last season, we were No. 10 in offense but we had more attempts than our opponents. Our shot selection has to improve. Individually, we’re working on our shooting, both from the field and the line. As a team, we want to go out on the break more for easy baskets. With Jimmy, we’ve got a point guard who’ll be able to locate our shooters for open looks and execute our offense. We were No. 11 in field goal percentage allowed because bigger guys overplayed us inside for high percentage shots and that’s a concern we’re addressing.”

Bringing Alapag out of retirement was a coup. “When Jimmy announced his retirement, our PBA governor Al (Panlilio) told him if ever he plans to play again, join us,” said Trillo. “It was supposed to be a joke but actually, it was half-meant. You remember after the FIBA World Cup, Jimmy wasn’t supposed to play at the Asian Games but with Jayson (Castro) injured, he was asked to stay with the team. Jimmy will never back down from playing for our country. But it took a toll. He wound up burned out. So he decided to retire. After a few months, he got the itch to play again and we were ready to welcome him. He’s a winner. We left the door open for him and fortunately, Jimmy walked in.”

Trillo said Alapag’s leadership and mentoring will be critical in improving Meralco. “Jimmy will put Baser under his wing,” he continued. “It was a hard decision to let go of Mike and James but we had to move on. With Rabeh coming back, we had an extra big so we did what we had to do to get Jimmy through a three-way trade. Our other point guard Jai is now with Talk ‘N’ Text.”

Al Hussaini sat out last season to attend to family inheritance issues in Kuwait, his father’s homeland. Now that the issues are settled, Al Hussaini is determined to revive his PBA career. “He’s got a new name because as a Kuwaiti, he had to incorporate his grandfather’s name to his own name although he’ll still be known in the PBA as Rabeh Al Hussaini,” said Trillo. “Rabeh’s comfortable with coach Norman (Black) and we all go back a long way from our Ateneo days. He’s matured a lot and he’s working hard to get back into shape. He’s lost weight but he’s still not in game shape. He played in the Kuwait league but when the season was over, he didn’t play for four months. Coach Norman wants to put him in a position to succeed and Rabeh knows that. Rabeh realizes since he entered the PBA, he hasn’t made a major impact yet. He wants to prove he belongs in the PBA. The other day, his knees swelled because he overworked himself in the gym. That’s how badly he wants to get into condition right away so he can contribute to our team. We told him to tone it down a bit. We’re excited to bring out the new Rabeh.”

Trillo said Newsome and Amer will play major roles for Meralco this season. “Chris can play 1, 2 and 3 so he’s very versatile just like J. D. (Jared Dillinger),” he said. “At practice, Chris has been playing the point with Baser still playing for San Beda in the NCAA and Jimmy playing for Gilas. Chris brings a lot of energy to our game and he’s an exciting player. We gave Baser an offer sheet to comply with the PBA rule of submitting a tender within five days of the draft but he hasn’t signed yet because we don’t want to create complications with the NCAA. With the offer sheet, we have his rights.”

Trillo said the Bolts’ souped-up lineup gives Black several options. “We can go big or small, depending on the matchups,” he said. “Cliff (Hodge) can play three or four like Sean (Anthony). Coach Norman can start several combinations. Jimmy or Baser will be our starting point guard. Chris can play the two spot, Cliff the three, Reynel (Hugnatan) the four and Rabeh the five. Then, we’ve got J. D., Gary (David), Rey (Guevarra), Kelly (Nabong), John (Ferriols), Anjo (Caram) and Simon (Atkins). Of those with expired contracts, only Gary and Reynel haven’t signed up yet but we’ve got an agreement in principle. We’re just working on some details.”

Trillo said Amer and assistant coach Jamike Jarin will miss the Las Vegas camp. “Jimmy might follow to Vegas,” he said. “Jimmy wants to get familiar with our guys, coaches and system. He’s hoping there will be some time off from Gilas so he can join us even for a few days. Gary is also tied up with Gilas and probably won’t be able to go to Vegas. Coach Norman will be with us at the camp until Sept. 16 then he’ll join coach Tab (Baldwin) with Gilas.” Jarin, concurrently the San Beda head coach, will finish the NCAA season with Amer. Black’s staff in Las Vegas will include assistant coaches Ronnie Magsanoc, Luigi Trillo and Xavy Nunag. Two assistant coaches Gene Afable and Patrick Fran will stay behind in Manila due to other commitments.


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