Meralco Bolts tussle with unexpected challenge before Comms Cup

MANILA, Philippines - Other teams may have conference targets like making the playoffs or the finals, but for the Meralco Bolts, their modest goal is to get better with each game and then take it from there. 

"We’re coming off a poor performance last conference,” said Bolts head coach Norman Black, whose team is coming off a last place finish (1-10) to the Philippine Cup. 

"If you noticed we didn’t change a single player. We think it’s a matter of cohesion and building team chemistry on and off the court.”  

That chemistry that the coaching staff has worked on since the end of their Philippine Cup stint will be tested as the Bolts were struck by some misfortune when Malcolm Thomas, their American reinforcement, was ruled out on account of a knee injury.

"Our first import, Malcolm Thomas, unfortunately is dealing with pain in his knee,” disclosed Bolts team manager Paolo Trillo. "Before coming over here, he was recuperating from a finger injury. So for 3 weeks Malcolm wasn’t active on the court.  

“During a recent practice game with GlobalPort, he felt some pain so we had it checked and unfortunately, it was found out that he has some loose cartilage in his knee. According to the doctors, he isn’t going to be 100% and his knee will continue to swell up until treated. So we have to replace him.” 

“It’s a bit of bad news for us but hopefully, it will turn out to be a blessing,” added Jimmy Alapag.  

Thomas’ replacement is Arinze Onuaku, a 28-year old, 6-foot-9 forward from Syracuse University who has played with the New Orleans Pelicans, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves in the National Basketball Association despite going undrafted in 2010.  

Onuaku played for legendary college basketball coach Jim Boeheim and was a teammate of Wesley Johnson who is now with the Los Angeles Clippers.  

“He’s a legit 6-9, 275-pound player,” described Trillo. “Hopefully, he’ll be an inside presence for us. When I watched him in the NBA D-League last year, he was a high percentage shooter." 

“We initially wanted to bring Arinze over but had he a live contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel,” shared Trillo. "His contract has since expired and he will fly over the night before the game. We tried to get him sooner but there were some things to take care of before he packed his bags.  

“As for adjustments, he will have to deal with jet lag. And he doesn’t even know what we’re doing on the court. If we’re going to try and pull off a win in our conference opener against Star it will have to come from our locals. In terms of game plan, it will be a feeling out process." 

"We will have to keep it simple,” succinctly pointed out Alapag.  

It’s not the start the Meralco Bolts would want for their Commissioner’s Cup campaign. “Well, no one ever said that winning a championship was easy,” summed up Trillo. “It might be game by game or day to day, but some times, you have to do it the hard way." –