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One-on-one: Trillo on Meralco’s 2015 season and building for the future

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The Meralco Bolts have been one of the most impressive teams in the 2015 PBA season. With coach Norman Black taking the helm, the Bolts transformed into a middle-tier team that was able to pull off surprises and challenge heavyweights all-season long.

With a core that does not have much promise compared to the league powerhouses, Black was able to handle a a squad and make them play together at a high level, even though in reality he only had a few tools, a handful of over-the-hill players/pushovers, and a few offensive weapons.

The Bolts eventually dethroned the Purefoods Star Hotshots in the Philippine Cup quarter-finals, made the semi-finals of the Commissioner’s Cup, and pushed San Miguel to the hilt before losing in two games in the Governors’ Cup quarter-finals despite finishing with only the 7th seed.

Meralco compiled an overall record of 21-21, keeping themselves in the middle of the pack compared to a dismal 14-22 record in the 2014 season.

Tiebreaker Times spoke with Bolts assistant coach Luigi Trillo to talk about the Bolts’ season in review and how he sees the team in the future.

Tiebreaker Times: On paper, this team is considered as a middle-tier team but you guys kept surprising people and always inserted yourselves into the conversation. How do you like what the team has showcased in its first season with Norman Black?

Luigi Trillo: “I am simply proud of this team. It is a great ‘stepping stone’ year for us. It is a learning curve and on the first year (with Norman Black) if you will look at the milestones, Meralco has never made the semis and you need to put it in perspective for these guys.”

“You cannot climb the mountain without appreciating the climb getting there. There are tough teams. There are deep teams there. We made the semis (against Rain or Shine in the Commissioner’s Cup) but you see the difference in depth. But overall, coach Norman has done a fantastic job of getting guys to play together and defensively.”

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“Getting guys like John Ferriols who was a bench warmer at Talk ‘N Text, Mike Cortez who was already sitting with Ginebra, overall, you cannot win them all. You have to be patient but you have to like where the team is getting to. People who know basketball will say what an amazing job we have done.”

“If you will look at this franchise, we had a lot of trades and we did not have draft picks (for 2014). Now we will have two picks and that is huge. You see what those picks can do to a team. I am blessed to be part of this and I see a lot in what coach Norman is doing. There is growth.”

TBT: Would you say it is just the talent level and the depth of this team that’s preventing it to take it to the next level? Like would it change if you had a few more weapons in the fold?

LT: “Teams have strengths and weaknesses. Just changing the culture. This team knocked out Purefoods from the quarters (Philippine Cup. In the semi-finals (Commissioner’s Cup) we had injuries and now (Governors Cup) we picked ourselves up and were one game away from the semi-finals. We are doing good things here.”

“Two to three players can change (the team). We are excited to see what to build with those two picks. Sometimes you need these growing pains. I love the situation we are in.”

nblack“I think coach Norman pound for pound, with the talent and depth that he has, just to be able to manage what he has, I think he has my vote for coach who did the best job. Obviously you have coaches like Chito (Victolero) from Kia and Alex (Compton) who did a good job, but looking at consistency to a small perspective, from growth last year and we were positioned, that is a big jump from second to last to fifth. I am excited but we have to be patient.”

TBT: In terms of coaching, even with the team lacking pieces for specific plays or the system in general, Black has still made a tremendous effort in making the team work together. What do you think of this upgrade?

LT: “If you told people out of the 12 teams that we were the fifth- to sixth-ranked team that’s almost making the semi-finals every conference, I don’t think people would pick us. There are at least seven or eight teams there on paper that are stronger than us. Management has done a really good job this year and if you’ll see it.”

TBT: In the future, are we looking at a massive overhaul or just the return of a core plus complementary pieces?

pba5LT:I think you are always looking to improve it as a team. You have to look at the overall big picture. Certainly, we have options this year. Those picks give us leeway in terms of building. We have gotten a feel of players and where you’re going to. The people we made moves on helped us. Look at Kelly Nabong, he has won games for us. He was not even being used before. Throughout the year you had your captain (Jared Dillinger) injured and still made it to the semi-finals. We have a lot to learn as a franchise but I am excited with what we have. The options give us opportunities.”

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Fired-up Von Pessumal on Kiefer Ravena incident: ‘I’m not here to make any friends’

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Will bridges be burned?

Von Pessumal was heavily-scrutinized Friday evening after an incident with fellow Ateneo lifer Kiefer Ravena.

It took place with 9:50 left in the final frame of the San Miguel Beermen’s highly-charged tilt against the NLEX Road Warriors. After Marcio Lassiter launched a trey, Pessumal looked like he was aiming for the rebound. Instead, he simply charged towards Ravena and pushed him down.

Lassiter’s three-pointer counted, while Pessumal, who was blocked by Ravena in a fastbreak and then received a staredown moments prior, was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul.

It was a surprising sight to see considering the amount of time he and Ravena have spent together — a bond that started ever since they were in high school. Even the second-generation star admitted that he did not expect that from his former running body.

“I did not expect that at all,” said the NLEX rookie.

But Pessumal downplayed such incident despite attempts by scribes to make him elaborate what had really transpired during that moment.

“It’s part of the game. It’s part of the game,” the league sophomore said after the match which they won 109-98. “I don’t wanna say anything, I’m sorry.

“It’s part of the game. Whatever move on. Not a big deal.”

Asked if he was motivated to face Ravena, whom he had shared three UAAP juniors titles, two UAAP seniors crowns, and a SEA Games gold medal with, the 24-year-old shared that he approached Friday’s bout the way he usually does.

“I wouldn’t say motivated [versus Kiefer], I mean, it’s just like any other game. When I play, I don’t see who’s guarding me, I just play,” said the 6-foot-2 swingman.

“I play to win all the time.”

The incident he and Ravena figured in shadowed his performance of 10 points on 50 percent shooting off the bench — the second time he had scored in double figures this season. After Friday, Pessumal is averaging 8.25 points.

“We have to sustain the level of excellence that they (starters) have. Our job is — I wouldn’t say support, but — when we get in, we should bring the level higher so when they come back, the game is easier for them,” he said.

Pessumal was then asked if he and Ravena met each other after the buzzer sounded as the two did not even shake hands after the contest. But, through a short yet strong response, the 24-year-old said that they did not.

“I wouldn’t say anything. I don’t know, after the game?,” he expressed.

“I’m a professional basketball player, I’m not here to make any friends.”

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Yeng Guiao denies using racial slur against Chris Ross

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During the post-game of the San Miguel Beermen’s victory over the NLEX Road Warriors, reigning Coach of the Year Leo Austria said that NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao called Chris Ross the “N” word that caused the commotion.

According to Chris, tinawagan siya ng nigger or ganiyan,” said Austria. “I don’t know but that’s what he explained to me because I confronted Chris Ross because he’s one of the most important players in my team.

“But that’s the thing he doesn’t want to hear so nagflare up yung bata so I cannot blame him.”

Guiao though denied that he blurted out racial slurs against San Miguel’s Chris Ross.

“Hindi. Hindi ko tinawag na N-word. Ewan ko kung may nakarinig. Pero hindi,” clarified the fiery tactician moments after their 98-109 defeat, their third straight after starting the 2018 Philippine Cup with two straight wins.

That tussle, according to Guiao, was just filled with trash talking against each other, as he felt the need to retaliate. In fact, Guiao was even caught by the TV camera saying “son of a bitch” towards the Filipino-American point guard.

“Daldal siya ng daldal eh. Eh sa akin naman kapag ganon, siguro respeto nalang. Lumayo ka nalang tutal mananalo naman na kayo,” he said. “I didn’t understand what he was saying, what he was talking about.

“Nakipagtrash-talking din ako sa kanya.”

Furthermore, the 58-year-old was also caught by the cameras flipping the bird — in one quick motion — also against Ross.

“Oo. Kasama na rin yun.

“Pero ano naman eh, it’s part of, siguro, psychological warfare. Malakas din siya mang-asar. Hindi lang naman sa amin. Everytime naman na mga ganoong skirmishes, he also knows what he’s capable of,” the seven-time champion coach furthered.

But more than this scuffle, it really has become a stressful time for Guiao and the Road Warriors. They have now went down to 2-3 in the team standings, and the mentor sees the great need to end this slump immediately.

“We have to arrest it very soon. Ang susunod na laro namin ay versus Rain or Shine sa Friday. So we need to go back to 50 percent win-loss level para at least may chance ka na maka-playoffs. That’s going to be a crucial game for us,” he stressed.

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Kiefer Ravena shocked with Von Pessumal’s shove: ‘I did not expect that at all’

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Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal have been teammates ever since they were in high school, winning three UAAP juniors crowns together. They won two championships together in the seniors level and even played together in Gilas. They were inseparable.

Friday evening however, they were playing for separate camps.

Ravena admitted that he never expected a shove to come from Pessumal during the NLEX Road Warriors’ clash with San Miguel Beermen.

In an off-ball situation, Pessumal charged at Ravena, sending the rookie down to the floor with 9:50 remaining in the final frame. He was then whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul, and Ravena sank one from the line.

“I did not expect that at all,” admitted Ravena after the match in which they lost, 98-109 — their third straight defeat after a 2-0 start. “But hopefully Von doesn’t take it personal.

“I’m just doing my job. They won the game.”

Ravena insisted that there wasn’t any physicality between him and Pessumal prior to that, but he thinks that his former Gilas teammate may have gotten irked by his staredown after blocking him on a fastbreak play early in the fourth.

“When that fastbreak happened — the same exact possession na I challenged him, I looked at him, and after that yun na yung nangyari,” said the 23-year-old guard. “But I never instigated something to provoke Von to do that.

“Probably nung tinignan ko siya.”

Moreover, the second overall pick of the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft felt that that incident “started all the commotions during the end game (laughs). Yun yung pinaka-una eh. And with that, the team got fired up and it worked for them.”

He may be right, for the game saw more skirmishes after that: from teammate Michael Miranda kicking Chris Ross to the groin, and with his head coach Yeng Guiao figuring in a heated verbal war also against Ross.

But then, Ravena made it clear that it was never a plan of his to put down somebody, especially someone like Pessumal who he sees as a brother for life.

“You know, Von and I, we go way back. Things like this hopefully don’t become too personal.

“I have no intention na ipapahiya yung tao or sasaktan mo yung tao. Wala namang ganun. Laro-laro lang,” said NLEX’s leading scorer.

It was somehow a night to remember for Ravena, but for all the wrong reasons. After Friday’s loss that sent their card to 2-3, the veteran internationalist now sees the need for him and the Road Warriors to push the panic button.

“‘Di na pwedeng sabihin palaging kailangan namin matuto eh. Pangatlong sunod na,” the second-generation cager expressed.

“Kailangan siguro naming umaksyon.”

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Downcast Chris Ross chooses to stay mum after heated altercation with Yeng Guiao

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Through wins or losses, Chris Ross has always accommodated the members of the press asking for interviews and fans requesting for photo ops every after game. But Friday evening, the nine-year pro was despondent.

Visibly agitated with the events that had transpired during the San Miguel Beermen’s tilt against the NLEX Road Warriors, Ross, with his hoodie covering his head, left the Cuneta Astrodome without saying a word.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had figured in physical play after physical play and verbal exchange after verbal exchange with the frustrated Road Warriors.

Ross and Alex Mallari were both slapped with technicals after a confrontation with 9:06 left. This was just the start of many things to come for the Filipino-American defensive specialist

After knocking down a triple and receiving a taunt from Ross, Michael Miranda was assessed a disqualifying foul for an apparent kick to the groin against Ross with 4:35 left.

The tip of the iceberg came with 1:46 left to play and the game all but settled.

Yeng Guiao and Ross figured in a heated word war that resulted in Ross’ second technical foul for the game. Referees and players from both sides had to separate the two to prevent things from escalating.

San Miguel coach Leo Austria alleged that the fiery NLEX mentor said the “N” word, while some said Guiao called Ross a “bitch”.

Ross finished the game with four points, eight rebounds, and four steals in 37 minutes of action.

For sure, penalties and suspensions will come out of this game.

And it was better for Ross to stay silent.

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