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.”
“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.”
“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?
LT: “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.”