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    PBA preview: Meralco Bolts power up with rejigged team built to win in the present

    Nov 15, 2013
    Ryan Gregorio's lineup at Meralco, led by Mike Cortez, Jared Dillinger and Cliff Hodge, should give him his best shot at a championship since leaving Purefoods. Jerome Ascano

    (Fourth of a 10-part series serving as primer for the coming PBA season)

    Meralco Bolts

    2012-2013 record: 23-24

    Head coach: Ryan Gregorio

    Rookie: none

    Offseason additions: AJ Mandani, Nelbert Omolon, Gary David, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Kerby Raymundo

    Gone from last season: Chris Ross, Chris Timberlake, Noy Baclao, Macmac Cardona, Jay-Arr Reyes, Josh Vanlandingham, Allan Mangahas

    Holdovers: John Wilson, Cliff Hodge, Don Carlos Allado, Mike Cortez, Paul Artadi, Jared Dillinger, Reynel Hugnatan, Rey Guevarra, James Sena, Sunday Salvacion

    Reserve: Kerby Raymundo

    Strengths: Meralco opens with its most impressive lineup since entering the league in 2010 - the product of several deals coach Ryan Gregorio pulled off from last season that should give him his best shot at a championship since leaving Purefoods.

    The arrival of key acquisitions Kerby Raymundo, Gary David and Rabeh Al-Hussaini is a sign that the Bolts did not build up for the future - they didn't take in a single rookie - but to win in the present.

    The Bolts' starting five look impressive on paper. They are studded with top-quality players in every position, from Al-Hussaini at center to Raymundo or Reynel Hugnatan at the four spot to sophomore Cliff Hodge or Jared Dillinger at No. 3 to David at the off-guard spot and Mike Cortez at the point.

    When the Bolts made the Final Four for the first time in their short history in the last Governors Cup, it came as a pleasant surprise for the team's officials and supporters. But this rebuilt team can be counted upon to not just make the playoffs but also go deep in the playoffs.

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    Weakness: The Bolts will need to have everyone clicking if they are to go all the way, but some of the players counted upon to deliver this season each have question marks beginning with Raymundo, who may no longer be the same player that won three championships with Gregorio at Purefoods.

    The 6-5 pride of Orion, Bataan, in fact, is starting his first season at Meralco on the injured list as he is currently in the US to undergo strengthening on his right knee, which had slowed him down in his final conference with Ginebra last season.

    Then there is Al-Hussaini, who has failed to stick with every team he has been with in a journeyman career. His reunion, in fact, with former college coach Norman Black at Talk 'N Text didn't last long. Now the former Ateneo star will have to prove doubters wrong if Meralco expects to be a top contender this season.

    Season outlook: Gregorio has no doubt the right mixture of veterans and upcoming stars which, if it can all come together, can give Meralco a chance this season. But the problem is, Meralco's team looks so ordinary when ranged against the lineups of the league's elite.

    Gregorio needs to once again weave his coaching magic to pull off a title out of his hat.

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    Ryan Gregorio's lineup at Meralco, led by Mike Cortez, Jared Dillinger and Cliff Hodge, should give him his best shot at a championship since leaving Purefoods. Jerome Ascano
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