MERALCO'S recent acquisition of Danny Ildefonso has inevitably left not a few PBA insiders to wonder: “Is the groundworks being laid for Jong Uichico's takeover of the team?”
An eight-time champion coach with San Miguel and Ginebra, Uichico currently sits as Meralco’s team consultant - a role which he himself insists does not give him a direct hand in the affairs and movement of the team.
But a closer look reveals the Bolts are already teeming with former Uichico players in Ildefonso and Mike Cortez, who were with him in the old San Miguel team, as well as Sunday Salvacion, Paul Artadi and John Wilson - his former players during his time at Ginebra.
Another recent Meralco acquisition, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, was once eyed by Uichico when he was still with Ginebra in 2011.
So the question begs to be answered: Will he be taking over soon?
“Hindi. Wala. Nagkakataon lang 'yun (mga players)," came the soft-spoken coach's vehement denial when sought by Spin.ph. "Syempre, mga available sila sa trade or free agent. Kinukuha lang namin.”
Asked if he has direct hand in the signing of Ildefonso, who won several championships with him at San Miguel, Uichico said the decision was not his alone but was a consensus reached by the entire Meralco coaching staff led by head coach Ryan Gregorio.
“Wala naman (akong kinalaman). Basta free agent siya, tapos we needed him to help us,” he said.
Uichico continued: “Wala akong influence dun, it was a collective decision of the coaching staff, and most believed Danny can help us one way or another in terms of experience and game efficiency.”
It will be recalled that Gregorio didn't sound sold to the idea of getting Ildefonso during the time the two-time league MVP was unceremoniously cut by Petron.
[To read full story, see Despite injury-riddled frontline, Gregorio yet to give green light to Ildefonso deal]
Gregorio’s statements were in direct contrast to an interview given by Uichico to Spin.ph three days earlier, revealing how Meralco was evaluating the possible hiring of Ildefonso.
[To read full story, see Uichico confirms Meralco making a bid to sign free agent Ildefonso]
However, Uichico was firm in saying that whatever movement Meralco makes is always the result of a collective decision of the coaching staff, with Gregorio having the final say.
“Opinyon naman ng lahat yung mga ginagawa namin, hindi lang ng isa,” said Uichico.
Asked if there was a time when he had to defend Ildefonso’s acquisition before Gregorio, the coach of the Sinag team that bagged the gold medal in the last Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar said there was no need to.
“It was everybody’s opinion naman. Pero sabi ko nga even though (Ildefonso) is 36 years old, malaking bagay pa rin ang experience niya - even if you are not looking at the short-term," he said.
"Pero everybody’s opinion pa rin yun,” he added of the assessment of Ildefonso by the team that took more than a month before the player was signed to a one-conference deal.
Uichico, nonetheless, bared his happiness to once again be on the same team with Ildefonso, which last happened at San Miguel in 2006 before Uichico was transferred to Ginebra.
Asked if Danny Seigle, who is now with Meralco’s sister team Talk n’ Text, will be joining them at Meralco soon, Uichico let out a laugh.
“Okay na siya sa Talk 'N Text," he said. "I think he is more needed there.”