05 March 2017

Bolts' Promising Roster For the 2017 Commissioner's Cup

Meralco Bolts
Ever since Norman Black took over the coaching chores of the Meralco Bolts in 2014, each season campaign usually follow a predictable trend. The first conference is a disappointment, the next one is promising, while the last one surprises many.

The seven-year old franchise came crashing down near the rock bottom in the 2016 Philippine Cup, reached the Final Four in the Commissioner’s Cup and ended up with an unsuccessful first Finals appearance in last year’s Governor’s Cup.

Hopefully, that pattern ends soon after team manager Paolo Trillo expressed confidence about their outlook in the coming 2017 Commissioner’s Cup with a healthy lineup and 6-10 import Alex Stepheson.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” said Trillo in an interview with sports columnist Joaquin Henson. “Last season, we went from 12th in the first conference to fourth in the second to second in the third. We worked hard to progress.

“Then, in the Philippine Cup, we fell to 11th place. We missed J. D. (Dillinger) who sat out eight games. We were shallow at the three spot. When Jimmy (Alapag) retired, we felt his absence in our end-game poise. We lost to Blackwater by two, Alaska by two and Phoenix by four.

“Those games could’ve easily gone our way. We were deep at the two position with Chris (Newsome), Joseph (Yeo) and Jonathan (Uyloan) but we lacked consistency in the middle with Rabeh (Al Hussaini) sitting out a few games with an injury and Bryan (Faundo) filling in. Cliff (Hodge) and Reynel (Hugnatan) were tough for us at forward.”

Trillo said coach Norman Black experimented with different combinations, even trying out Newsome at the point. “Because of our injuries, everyone had to step up,” he said. “It wasn’t easy finding the right mix. We played Ed (Daquioag), Jonathan (Grey) and Baser (Amer) a lot to give them experience. We’ll miss Ed and Jonathan when they report for Gilas training (only Daquioag may join the pool).”

Trillo said in the Philippine Cup, Meralco got off to a 2-1 start and would’ve gone to 3-0 if the Bolts beat Blackwater but back-to-back close losses to Alaska and Phoenix started a downward spiral of six straight defeats. Meralco fell to 3-8 and missed out on the playoffs.

But the good news is the Bolts are now healthy and ready to pick up from where they left off in finishing second to Ginebra in the Governors Cup last season. An addition to the roster is Marshall University’s Chris Lutz but he won’t be back in uniform until April.

“Chris was sidelined for a while because of a back problem but doctors couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t responding to treatment,” said Trillo. “Finally, Chris consulted Steph Curry’s doctor who discovered that the issue wasn’t the back but his ankle. An ankle injury triggered a nerve problem that affected his back. So now, he’s getting the right treatment. We were lucky Chris was put on the unrestricted free agent list.”

Stepheson, 29, could be the answer to Meralco’s woes at center. “We wanted to bring him in last season but he got called up by the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies,” said Trillo. “We saw him at the NBA D-League Showcase. We kept in contact with Alex and when he finished his contract in China, we signed him up.”

The 250-pound Stepheson arrived last 1 March from Los Angeles. “In finding the right import, it’s not just talent,” said Trillo. “He’s got to fit in, to fill a need. We think he can give us the inside presence that (Arinze) Onuaku and (Allen) Durham provided for us last season.”

Stepheson split four years of college basketball at the University of North Carolina and University of Southern California then played in Cyprus, Greece, Slovenia, Turkey and China. In 2015-16, he averaged 15.9 points and 13.8 rebounds for the Iowa Energy in the NBA D-League, leading to two 10-day contracts with the Clippers and one with Memphis.

So far, the roster has indeed become promising with a deep roster as follows:

PG: Amer, Grey, Caram
SG: Newsome, Yeo, Uyloan
C: Stepheson, Al-Hussaini, Faundo
PF: Hugnatan, Hodge, Nabong
SF: Dillinger, Lutz

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