RANIDEL De Ocampo felt a bit strange being in the PBA finals for the first time and not in his familiar TnT Katropa jersey.
The veteran stretch 4 got the chance to return on the big stage Thursday as Meralco completed a sweep of Star in their PBA Governors Cup semifinals after a hard-earned 91-88 win in overtime of Game Three at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
De Ocampo finished with 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds and hit a pressure-packed basket late in the extra period that helped the Bolts overcome a huge Hotshots fightback from as much as a 13-point deficit.
The 3-0 sweep shoved the Bolts back in the finals of this same season-ending meet where they finished runner-up behind Barangay Ginebra Kings last season.
For De Ocampo, it would be his first stint in the finals for the Bolts after previously winning six championships with TnT.
“Iba ang pakiramdam dati kasi pag nag-finals, TnT ako,” he admitted in the post-game interview. “Willing ako at excited na makatulong sa Meralco. Gagawin ko ang lahat para makatulong sa team, pero binibigay ko lahat ng credit sa teammates ko.”
The Bolts acquired the former Gilas stalwart in a three-team trade late in the eliminations despite Meralco winning games and ending up as the no. 1 seed heading into the playoffs.
Coach Norman Black said the arrival of De Ocampo was definitely a ‘huge lift’ for his team.
“Getting a player of his caliber that late in the conference particularly when you’re winning games and playing well, was a big lift for us down the stretch,” said the champion mentor. “Obviously, it’s not over yet, but he’s a big lift for us.”
Just last conference, De Ocampo was playing in the finals for TnT against San Miguel during the mid-season Commissioner’s Cup.
Now, the possibility looms of him meeting his former team in the title series as the Katropa and defending champion Barangay Ginebra Kings are currently locked at 1-all in the other semifinals pairing.
De Ocampo doesn’t cringe about the prospect of going up against the Katropa in the best-of-seven series.
“Kahit sino,” he stressed. “Pero siyemrpe kinakabahan ako pag naglalaro ang TNT, matagal akong naglaro doon kahit paano."
“Pero sana ngayon naman may TNT-Meralco para may history naman nito sa finals.”