Cone heaps praise on Meralco hero Hugnatan: 'He's my all-time favorite player'
Reynel Hugnatan played almost seven seasons under Tim Cone at Alaska. Jerome Ascano

BARANGAY Ginebra coach Tim Cone insisted that his team won’t have an extra edge over Meralco with Ranidel de Ocampo expected to miss the rest of the PBA Governors Cup Finals series that shifts to Game Four on Friday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

De Ocampo went out early in Game Three with a calf injury and is expected to be sidelined for the rest of the series, according to Bolts coach Norman Black.

But Cone believes Reynel Hugnatan is more than capable of continuing to fill the void left by the star stretch forward, going as far as implying that Hugnatan could even be an upgrade over De Ocampo – based on the former’s vintage performance in Game Three.

Coming in averaging one point and six minutes in the first two games of the series, Hugnatan stepped up in the absence of De Ocampo, tallying 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc, five boards, two assists, and one steal without committing a single turnover in almost 39 minutes of play in the Bolts’ 94-81 win.

“Hugnatan played so well, he played the RDO role so well, better than RDO plays it,” Cone told SPIN.ph after Ginebra practice on the eve of Game Four. “He’s got a lot of similar skills that RDO has – the ability to shoot it, the ability to post up; he might be a little better defender than RDO, so they don’t lose a lot with Reynel out there.”

“Reynel’s a little bit older, but he always keeps himself in great shape – he played thirty-eight minutes last night and didn’t look winded,” he added. “Anytime you lose a player like that (De Ocampo), it’s going to impact you, but I don’t see it being as impactful as a lot of people might think because of Reynel’s abilities.”

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Cone knows the 38-year-old Hugnatan well after they spent almost seven seasons together at Alaska.

“I’ve always said that he’s one of my all-time favorite players – if not my favorite all-time player. I’ve said that to him many times,” Cone admitted. “He’s just a great person, great work ethic, great teammate. He’s so unique with his ability to shoot with his left and right hands. I really had a lot of fun coaching him.”  

Apart from Hugntan, the Bolts also got timely local support for Allen Durham from Anjo Caram, who registered seven points on two triples, three boards, one assist, one steal, and zero turnover in almost 18 minutes as the pint-sized playmaker stepped up in the off night of Baser Amer.

“They didn’t do anything special expect they found some contributors off the bench in Rey and Caram,” Cone said. “They really made an impact in the game, and (Garvo) Lanete played well in the fourth quarter, so in terms of making radical changes, no, they didn’t make any. They played their game. They have great confidence in the way they play.

“They just kind of got back to basics and then Durham had a monster game,” he added. They made some nice, subtle adjustments in terms of getting Durham free and getting him into his spots.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos