MERALCO guard Jared Dillinger admitted feeling a little uneasy playing against world boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, KIA Motors’ playing coach, for the first time.
In the first few minutes at least, Dillinger said there was fear that he might hurt Philippine sports' biggest treasure when he tried to go hard to the basket or grab a rebound against the much-shorter KIA rookie coach.
“To be honest, I was kind of scared to hit him. (But) I know I should not be thinking like that because he just wants to be a player just like us,” said Dillinger, who banged in 25 points to lead Meralco past KIA, 99-93.
“But there was kind of a couple of moments when I kinda paused momentarily because I don’t want to run him over or I don’t want to hit him,” he added.
Dillinger said he simply had to remind himself that he’s playing against Pacquiao the basketball player, who wants to help KIA win a basketball game.
“He’s on the other team and he just wants to win just as bad as all of us. That’s just the way he carries himself as a person and how he never gives up,” said the 30-year-old Fil-American guard.
The left-handed Meralco figured in a hard collision with Pacquiao during the game where he remembered hitting him accidentally with an elbow during a rebound scramble.
In another play, the 5-foot-6 Pacquiao bit into the Meralco Fil-Am’s head fake before colliding with Dillinger in the early goings of the first quarter. Pacquiao was whistled for a foul.
“Okay lang naman ako (after the collision), pero malaki pala yung tinapalan ko,” Pacquiao said, drawing laughter from reporters who covered the game at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Dillinger said he was impressed with the way Pacquiao's fighting spirit has rubbed off on the rest of the KIA team, which razed the Bolts’ 22-point lead to grab an 81-78 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
“He keeps coming and keeps fighting. You can tell, that’s the style of play, how he boxes and you see his fighting spirit. He doesn’t care that I was a foot taller than him, he tries to block my shot,” the Gilas Pilipinas mainstay said.
In 6:30 minutes of play, Pacquiao had two three-point attempts in his stats line, both of which he missed, while being tightly-guarded by Meralco’s veteran playmaker Mike Cortez.
He had a career-high two rebounds to go with one foul and a turnover.
“Okay lang, at least naka-dalawang try ako, di pumasok kasi malayo,” he added.
As the ousted Sorento face a long conference break after their last elimination round game on Sunday against NLEX, Pacquiao said he intends to hold a team-building session ahead of the next conference.
“Kailangan mag-team building kami, para mapag-usapan kung ano ang problema,” noted Pacquiao, who turns 36 this month.
Pacquiao said he is not sure if he will play in KIA’s last game for the conference on Sunday.