Norman Black sets out to solve old PBA Governors’ Cup riddle that is Ginebra
Barangay Ginebra versus Meralco the fourth installment for the PBA Governors’ Cup in the last five years has basically the same storyline: The Gin Kings are again regarded as the overwhelming favorites.
Yet Meralco coach Norman Black remains steadfast in the belief that—at some point, and he surely wants it to be this—his Bolts could finally rise up and turn this one-sided affair into something more riveting than a vehicle for Tim Cone and the popular franchise’s greatness.
“I like my chances this time around, yes,” he told reporters last Friday night, right after finishing off mighty Magnolia in a physical semifinal contest that went to a deciding Game 5.
Meralco has been on the nasty end of its Governors’ Cup Finals matchup with Barangay Ginebra, but this race-to-four series duel which unfurls on Wednesday at iconic Smart Araneta Coliseum is shaping up to be different from the three editions before it.
“It should be interesting again,” Black said.
Meralco will be plunging into action an entirely different squad from how it was back in 2016. It made some remarkable signings since then, from Allein Maliksi, a sweet-shooting forward who won titles with Cone, to Raymond Almazan, an agile and defensive big man Black has long been yearning for.
This season, the Bolts also brought in Panamanian standout Tony Bishop Jr. in place of Allen Durham, and then plucked Chris Banchero off free agency. Black, over the course of this tournament, has been very vocal on how much the two will be integral to the franchise’s breakthrough.
Vital new pieces
Bishop has helped Meralco unlock a different dimension to its game with his sleek shooting. Banchero, on the other hand, doesn’t only provide additional firepower, but also affords Black some stability on the playmaking end while making the Bolts’ rotation less rigid.
Together with the core of Chris Newsome, Cliff Hodge, Reynel Hugnatan and Anjo Caram—all of whom have been hardened by all those years of futility at the hands of their fancied foes—Meralco sure looks a ferocious lot.
It is worth noting, however, that Ginebra has also evolved over time. It traded for spitfire guard Stanley Pringle (though out for this series), do-it-all forward Christian Standhardinger, and then an equally tireless Sidney Onwubere. The club also picked up free agent Nard Pinto later on.
And much of the favor Ginebra enjoys ahead of the title series stems from its seasoned nucleus of LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, Joe Devance, Jeff Chan, and of course, the indefatigable Justin Brownlee.
“I think Meralco is going to be incredibly motivated, I imagine, playing us for the fourth time,” Cone said.
The most competitive series that the two clubs played was back in 2017 when the race went to its full, seven-game distance.
But that just now seems like a neat footnote for Black, who not only set his sights at finally winning a title over his revered two-time Grand Slam-winning counterpart.
“I think a lot of people look at it as a very competitive rivalry as far as us meeting in the Finals, but they (Kings) have beaten us every time,” said.
“It won’t really be a rivalry until we beat them. And that’ll be the goal this time around,” he went on. INQ