SMART CLARK GIGA CITY — Size has always been an issue for Meralco in the past years, but they have finally addressed that by acquiring Raymond Almazan via trade last season.
Bolts head coach Norman Black now feels more optimistic as they try to exorcise the ghost of the past by overcoming long-time tormentors Barangay Ginebra in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals.
“The one thing we’ve never really had against them is we’ve never really had much size. And Raymond gives us a little bit of size because one of the biggest problems we always have with Ginebra is — before — Greg Slaughter, and of course Japeth Aguilar,” said the Grand Slam-winning mentor, who had just steered the franchise to its first all-Filipino semis appearance.
“Japeth’s been playing great basketball, so luckily we have a guy that can match up with him most of the time, which will probably give us a better chance of winning games.”
However, Black knows that it is just one piece of the whole puzzle. Besides having the PBA’s most accomplished coach, Time Cone, as their mentor, the Barangay “probably have the best player in the league.
“When you look at Ginebra, they’re well-coached. I mean they have the all-time winningest coach,” one of the league’s all-time greats offered.
“They have probably the best player in the league in Stanley Pringle. I know some of the guys will say Matthew Wright and other guys, but for me, Stanley Pringle is probably one of the top three players in the league.”
Stanley Pringle has been the most consistent cog for Ginebra this season. He was its top scorer at the end of eliminations with 18.7 points per game. And he was instrumental in the Gin Kings’ semis trip as well.
The six-year pro saw himself checked almost the entire game by the no. 8 Rain or Shine in the quarters. Still, he showed up when it mattered most, sparking a late-game pullaway to tow his side to an 81-73 victory.
“He is our closer,” Cone said of Pringle, who had 10 in that win. “We put the ball on his hands down the stretch and we expect him to close for us. We’re not going to force that every possession because he gets too exhausted and the defense gets too predictable.
“But down the stretch, we’re going to try to find a way to get him free, and allow him to do his thing and that is what he did.”
Besides Pringle, Black is also wary of the do-it-all Scottie Thompson. He has been playing inspired basketball in the bubble as he is dedicating this tournament for his beloved grandmother.
The 6-foot-1 guard had norms of 11.45 points, 8,8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists prior to the playoffs, including near triple-double performances in their last two assignments in the eliminations.
“We have the problem of Scottie Thompson, who brings you versatility,” said Black since Thompson was one of the reasons for Meralco finding it hard to top Ginebra in the three times they played in the Governors’ Cup Finals.
Despite the daunting challenge of facing the Gin Kings once again in the playoffs, Black vowed that his wards will not go down without a fight in the series that opens this Wednesday.
“Hopefully we can give them a run for their money. The idea is to set the goal to make it to the championship. And of course for us to be able to do that, we have to go through Ginebra to get it done. We know they’re going to be the favorites,” opined Black.
“I mean, they have a very, very good team — a lot of quality players on their team — but we’ll be out there fighting.”