IT’S a good thing Norman Black was at the Araneta Coliseum on Friday night as part of the television crew that worked Game Four of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals between Rain or Shine and Alaska.
The Meralco coach ended up receiving on behalf of Arinze Onuaku his plaque as the Bobby Parks Best Import awardee for the conference.
Then again, whether he’s there or not, Black never ever doubted the rock-solid import will be the runaway choice as the top among his class in the mid-season tournament.
“Who else would have won it?” said Black in reply if he was surprised the 28-year-old import won the award. “If it is the Best Import award, it’s you making your teammates better. We we’re 1-10 last conference. And he’s the only player that we recruited. I don’t know any import who should have won it.”
The Meralco reinforcement tallied a total of 1,132 points to beat Pierre Henderson-Niles (871) of Rain or Shine and Alaska’s Rob Dozier (692) for the honor. He led in the statistics and in media votes, and then finished second and third in votes among PBA and players, respectively.
Onuaku was the only import to play the entire conference for his team all the way to the semifinals.
Dozier also falls in the same breath, but a plantar fasciitis he suffered at the start of the conference limited his number of games with the Aces.
San Miguel’s Tyler Wilkerson was the consensus choice to win it all, until his temper got the better of him, eventually leading to his banishment from the team - and his disqualification from the Best Import race.
But Onuaku certainly made a case for himself, carrying the Bolts on his broad shoulder all-conference long, and came just a win short of making a first ever final trip for the franchise.
“I’m very happy for him. I think he played a big role in our turnaround this conference, from 1-10 (last conference) to 11-6. So he definitely was big part of that,” stressed Black, himself a two-time recipient of the Best Import award.
“His inside presence, interior defense, his rebounding and his ability to score around the basket at a high percentage really helped us a great deal this conference. I’m very happy for him.”
The great work the former Syracuse stalwart did for Meralco certainly deserves him a second chance with the team next year, according to Black.
“Definitely we would be looking for him and see what he’s doing next year,” said the multi-titled coach, who now counts Onuaku a part of his long list of players who won the Best Import award, along with Parks, Kenny Travis, Ansu Sesay, and Damian Owens.
“A lot of time when we recruit imports, it’s not whether what he did this year, it’s what he’s doing when the next conference comes around. If he’s ready to play, is he in shape, is he’s still playing, is he playing at a high level, because these things are very important,” said the Meralco mentor.
“But basically this conference, he deserves another chance.”
Black added Onuaku, who had stint with Cleveland and Minnesota in the NBA, is aware he won the Best Import award and will be more than glad to have his plaque shipped all the way from Manila to the U.S.
The Meralco coach and Onuaku’s representative Sheryl Reyes, were more than willing to do the chore, except for one problem – the import’s name was spelled Arinze Onuaka in the plaque.
The PBA already vowed to do an immediate correction.