RYAN Gregorio admitted he was bracing for the worst after Meralco traded away star guard Sol Mercado and promising rookie big man Kelly Nabong a week before the PBA Commissioner's Cup.
But just five games and 15 days into the import-spiced conference, the Bolts mentor is breathing a little easier, saying he is so far satisfied with his team’s performance and the direction it is headed.
“When I made the change (trade) one week before the start of the conference, I was anxious because we really don’t have the time to prepare the team,” Gregorio admitted to Spin.ph just before he gathered his team for regular practice on Friday at the Meralco gym.
Although the Bolts are below .500 with a 2-3 win-loss slate, Gregorio finds solace in the way his team stood toe to toe with fancied opponents.
“I was hoping to get even at .500 (mark), but realistically speaking, with the kind of performance we were having, we were two possessions away from beating Alaska, then we lost by just one possession to Petron. We also lost to Rain or Shine after giving in in the last three minutes. But we’re still in the middle of the pack,” he said.
The Bolts finally delivered down the stretch in their last game, a come-from-behind 90-89 win against Globalport last Sunday, thanks to Sunday Salvacion’s buzzer-beating three-pointer.
“Our team competes and doesn’t roll over and die. We just don’t let ourselves be overcome by a big margin and that was actually best exemplified in our win against Globalport,” said the boyish-looking coach.
Gregorio said since the Bolts will only play two games over the next 13 days, he will have enough time to fine-tune their defense and offense to ensure they get sharper when they match up with some of the PBA’s elite squads.
He also hopes that Filipino-American rookie forward Cliff Hodge would be able to make the adjustments of playing in the three-spot, something he has had to do with the presence of tall imports in the tournament.
“If there’s one guy who’s really wanting to stabilize his game, it’s Cliff Hodge since with the influx of big imports, it’s quite hard for him to compete at the four-spot (power forward),” he said.
After averaging 10.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks (30.2 minutes) in the Philippine Cup, the 6-foot-4 Hodge's numbers dipped when he shifted to the small forward spot – hitting just 7.2 points and 5.4 boards in 20 minutes of play.
“The four-spot is very different from the three-spot,” noted Gregorio, a three-time PBA Coach of the Year awardee. “But I just told him that he’s in this team because of the energy he brings.
"I think the energy factor was obvious in his last game because he was hustling, he was dunking and he even guarded the (Globalport) import (Justin Williams) in his fifth game this conference.”