Vucinic-Trillo tag team leads to Meralco’s first PBA title
A DYNAMIC DUO

Tag-team effort of Vucinic, Trillo leads to Meralco’s first PBA title

Tag-team effort of Vucinic, Trillo leads to Meralco’s first PBA title

Meralco Bolts’ Luigi Trillo and active consultant Nenad Vucinic celebrate the team’s first PBA championship. –MARLO CUETO/INQUIRER.net

Coach Luigi Trillo and active consultant Nenad Vucinic shared the podium for the first time on Sunday night, and appropriately so after Meralco overcame hardships to win a first-ever PBA championship.

For both, the Bolts’ road to Philippine Cup glory at the expense of the favored San Miguel Beermen is something that would have not been a possibility without their team buying in.

“Credit to the players because they responded. It took a lot of them to get out of that hole,” Trillo said after a nail-biting 80-78 title-clinching win at Smart Araneta Coliseum made possible by Chris Newsome’s last-second shot from the baseline.

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READ: Meralco wins first PBA title, survives San Miguel in Game 6

Trillo and Vucinic, both designated by management to call the shots after long-time mentor Norman Black took a lesser role as consultant, and the Bolts were on the brink of elimination when a stunning loss to winless Converge left them at 3-5 and outside of the playoff picture.

At that time, a championship, let alone a spot in the quarterfinals, seemed like a distant possibility. But Meralco somehow persevered, and both witnessed their players lift the Jun Bernardino Perpetual Trophy.

“The players, they bought in and worked hard though it was very hard for them to understand,” said Vucinic, the Serbian-born former New Zealand national team coach.

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Forgotten second placers

Meralco Bolts celebrate their first franchise PBA championship

Meralco Bolts celebrate their first franchise PBA championship. – PBA Images

The triumph, which was also Meralco’s first major basketball title since the 1971 MICAA Open, was also a redemption of sorts for the coaching duo.

Trillo has been with the Bolts since 2014 as an assistant under Black, and shared the bitter feeling of losing four times in the Finals with Newsome, Cliff Hodge, Anjo Caram and Reynel Hugnatan, now a member of the coaching staff.

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Before Game 5, Trillo spoke about how no one remembers being second place. Now, everyone will remember Meralco’s first.

READ: June Mar Fajardo: It’s Meralco’s time to win PBA title

“It wasn’t easy getting there,” he said. “They’ve been through four Finals appearances, a lot of pain. To gut it out this way, to really earn it—I’m saying about getting respect—it’s very fulfilling for us.”

Vucinic, meanwhile, had a previous short run as Meralco consultant in the 2022 Philippine Cup with Black still calling the shots before deciding to leave at the end of a seven-game semis loss to San Miguel.

But for some reason, the Bolts came calling again in 2023.

“The thing is when a new face comes in, especially a new face across the world—and this team has been under huge pressure to get the championship—we struggled I have to say because you have to implement a new system with new coaches and it’s difficult,” he said.

Now that the breakthrough title has been fulfilled, the talk now is whether Meralco can run it back for a shot at another one or multiple titles on the horizon. For the meantime, that thought will have to take a backseat.

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“The future of Meralco is a party. A huge party,” said Vucinic. “After the party, we will talk about it.” INQ

TAGS: PBA, Sports

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