THE Meralco Bolts, who failed to go deep in the previous tournament, begin their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup campaign today against the Columbian Dyip at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Bannered by returning reinforcement Arinze Onuaku in the import-laden, midseason PBA tournament, the Bolts are angling to have a far better finish this time around, beginning with their encounter against Dyip (formerly Kia Picanto) set for 4:30 p.m.
Playing in the main game at 7 p.m., meanwhile, are the Phoenix Fuel Masters and Blackwater Elite.
A former best import awardee in his first PBA tour of duty, 2016 Commissioner’s Cup, where he helped the Bolts to a top two finish at the end of the elimination round and all the way to the semifinals, Mr. Onuaku is being banked on to make his impact anew and lead Meralco’s charge to its first PBA title.
“We are bringing back Arinze to give us a defensive presence in the paint, improve our rebounding, and be low post threat on the offensive end, things we were lacking in the last conference,” said Meralco coach Norman Black of the decision to bring back Mr. Onuaku, who averaged a steady 18.7 points, 17.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in his previous stint with the team.
The Bolts will also welcome back forward Cliff Hodge, who missed the windup of their Philippine Cup campaign after the MCL sprain he suffered.
But unfortunately for Meralco, while Mr. Hodge is back, it will continue to miss the services of veteran Ranidel De Ocampo, who injured his Achilles in practice. He is expected to be out in the early part of the ongoing tournament.
Just the same, Mr. Black said he is confident that his team is ready to compete, “in pretty good health and pretty good shape.”
Standing in the way of the Bolts at the onset is Columbian, which had a winning start to its campaign, defeating Blackwater Elite, 126-98, on opening day on April 22.
Free-agent signing Jerramy King impressed in his debut with his new team, leading Dyip with 30 points as they pulled away for the big victory.
Rashawn McCarthy added 22 points and six assists in the win while import CJ Aiken finished with nine points, 22 rebounds and six steals.
“We are looking for a change of attitude this conference. We should not play the same way as we did in the first conference, I shouldn’t coach the way I coached in the first conference,” said Columbian coach Rick Dandan, whose team bottom-scraped in the Philippine Cup with a 1-10 record.
Meanwhile, Blackwater looks to bounce back after being tripped in its opener.
Import Jarrid Famous had a solid statline of 35 points and 22 rebounds but it was not enough to tow his team over Columbian.
Allein Maliksi added 22 points of his own for the Elite while Mac Belo had 11.
Debuting Phoenix, for its part, will parade former Kia import James White to play in tandem with stalwarts Matthew Wright, Jeff Chan, RJ Jazul, Jason Perkins and Willy Wilson. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo