When Jimmy Alapag decided to hang up his sneakers for good, it seemed that the Meralco Bolts werne’t just losing a player, they were losing their soul, and their biggest inspiration. Without the Mighty Mouse, the Bolts struggled to find their footing in much the same way as an orchestra without a conductor, with the team being eliminated early in the Philippine Cup.
In the ongoing Commissioner’s Cup, though, Meralco appears to have rediscovered its identity with Jared Dillinger back in the saddle after recovering from an injury. Perhaps more significantly, the Bolts seemed to have found the missing piece they were looking for in import Alex Stephenson.
Stephenson, Meralco’s import choice, proved to be the missing big guy the team wanted all these years. He has been a dominant figure, this despite the fact that the NBA veteran has yet to play in peak form.
According to Head Coach Norman Black, Meralco waited two years to secure Stephenson’s services. Meralco wanted Stephenson, who had brief stints in the NBA playing for the LA Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies, and the team locked the import as early as last November.
“We were trying to get him as early as last year, but he didn’t want to play in the PBA because he wanted to try his luck in the NBA,” said Black. “We settled for Arinze Onuaku, who turned out to be an efficient import for us last season, but we kept in touch with Alex.”
Currently, Stephenson is adjusting to the local weather conditions and the PBA-style of play, but he was able to come up with solid numbers in all three wins Meralco racked up in for his first three games. On last Friday’s win against TNT alone, he finished with 20 points and 27 rebounds.
But more than Stephenson’s huge presence, it was the locals’ ability to pick up the slack vacated by Alapag, which has been the key to the team’s early success in the ongoing conference.
Dillinger, widely seen as one of the squad’s leaders, believes it would take more than just one player to fill in the shoes left by Alapag: “He’s a generation-type of player. I don’t think there’s one guy who can replace Jimmy Alapag. It should be a collective effort, from me, Papa Rey (Hugnatan), Cliff and even the younger players. No one can replace Jimmy Alapag.”
Even sophomore Baser Amer, now being tasked to play the premier point guard spot, believes the former MVP is irreplaceable, saying, “Hindi madali yung pagkawala ni Jimmy kasi. Dinadahan-dahan lang namin…Makakarating rin kami doon. Kailangan lang naming pagtrabahuhan sa practice. Wala na kaming magagawa ni Anjo (Caram) kasi kami na lang magpapalitan sa point guard. Kailangang maging ready lang kami.”
Image source: Inquirer Sports