The past few days have been rough for Arinze Onuaku, so much so that he is just grateful to overcome everything despite fatigue and jetlag.
“I just tried to push through and get it done. It is very tough. I tried to figure it out as the game goes. Guys made good plays and helped the team,” Onuaku said Wednesday, after Meralco edged Star, 90-86.
The 6-foot-9 center had only been notified two days before the Bolts took the hardcourt, as original import Malcolm Thomas suffered a knee injury that required surgery.
Onuaku flew 24 hours and arrived Tuesday night, less than a day before the Bolts’ first game. The morning after, he was measured and did all the paper work, not even getting to any practice session.
“I just found out I was flying here two nights ago. We just put in a few keys before the game,” he said. “I am affected. It was rough. I just tried to push through it. I got here last night, and I just woke up and did all the testing and went here.”
Meralco was fortunate that they had played the second game, as head coach Norman Black took the time to teach Onuaku some plays while the first game was on.
Black walked Onuaku through three basic plays at the Araneta Coliseum parking area, where there was a vacant hoop.
“He put in three plays. He kept it basic and that was what we did,” Onuaku shared.
“We went in this game with just three plays. Once he gets used to our system he will be the guy we will be able to go to in the post,” Black added.
Onuaku, though visibly gassed, was able to finish with 25 points on 11-for-17 shooting and 22 rebounds. In his first game trying to get a feel of the league and his team, Onuaku was very cautious with his moves and read the floor consciously before making decisions.
“I didn’t know much about the PBA. I knew some players. It was good. When you see your team win that is always good. The team was more upbeat,” he said.
Guidance from ex-PBA import
Part of the process of getting used to his surroundings was getting a little help from another import who used to play in the PBA. Paul Harris, who won a Commissioner’s Cup title with Talk ‘N Text, had been Onuaku’s teammate back with Syracuse in the late 2000s.
Onuaku says he is still connected with Harris until today, and the two talked about the league where the former at least got his initial familiarity about the PBA.
“I talked to him two days ago. You never really know until you get here but Paul is one of my best friends. We talked like two days ago,” Onuaku shared.
With the big man in tow, the Bolts can solve not only their rebounding woes but will also have a much-needed post option. Onuaku can finish with both hands, shoots well over his defender, and has the ability to operate inside the post with impressive footwork.
“What Arinze does is he helps clean those rebounds so we can control the boards. I think it will help our offense. We control the rebounds, we will get out and run and I think you’ll see a lot more in the conference,” Black said.
“I think after a week, or maybe two, it will definitely be Arinze (as our main post option). He is a load at 6-foot-9, 275. I don’t know how many people can hold him off with their chests. That is going to be very difficult.”
His first game has been a tough assignment, but Onuaku is just glad the initial challenge is already done. Now, he’s up for a tougher task of helping Meralco improve their overall record.
“All I can do is go out there and fight. Hopefully the guys fight with me and things will fall into place.”