ASI Taulava's departure from Meralco has put a huge responsibility on the shoulders of Fil-Am rookie Cliff Hodge ahead of the PBA’s 38th Season kicking off on Sunday.
The young man is the least bit fazed. He's in fact thrilled.
The fourth pick overall in the last rookie draft can't wait to plunge into action in the pro league, where he will be counted upon to make the Bolts respectable in the middle in Taulava's absence while running the wings in Ryan Gregorio's free-flowing, run-and-gun offense.
“I’ve been working extra hard this offseason, trying to improve on my shooting,” the 6-5 Fil-American told Spin.ph. “I’m playing really hard in our recent tune-up games because I want to help Meralco this season.”
Gregorio has bared plans to drop his deliberate offense this season in favor of a free-wheeling style to maximize the speed and scoring skills of his two-guard combo of Sol Mercado and Mac-mac Cardona.
That should also work in Hodge's favor, an open-court style expected to showcase the athleticism and boundless energy of the rookie who stood out for Meralco's amateur team NLEX in the D-League.
Hodge's fine performances in the preseason can attest to that.
“I think it’s really fun to play the run-and-gun offense. We have great shooters and we’ve got big men who can run the court. We hope to play and be competitive this season,” said Hodge.
So confident is Gregorio in his freshman out of Hawaii Pacific University that he has given him the license to create on the floor.
“Coach Ryan has been telling me to make the decision inside the court. He’s been telling me to read situations and make decision based on what I see. He has trusted me to make good decisions during games,” added the power-playing Hodge.
Meralco’s media liaison officer Virgil Villavicencio has no doubt that Hodge could become one of the team’s future superstars not just because of his talent, but more because of the workman-like attitude he shows during practice.
“He’s like the team’s energizer bunny. Parang di nauubusan ng lakas during the game. He’s really very aggressive and is not afraid to bang bodies,” Villavicencio said of their prized draftee.