Can Stepheson plug the hole in the middle? Norman Black hopes so

In Alex Stepheson’s PBA debut game, Meralco coach Norman Black gave a passing rate to the former Memphis Grizzlies big man, who collared 21 rebounds, scored 11 points and added 4 blocks in the Bolts’ 94-86 win over Mahindra on opening day of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Friday night.

Since Meralco still lacks the local size to match up with two of the league’s top big men–three–time MVP June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel and Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter–Black said it’s just right to seize the opportunity by maximizing the 6-9 height limit for the mid-season conference.

“We try to recruit an import who can control the boards. We still have to give Alex some time to get in shape because he has to work on his conditioning a little bit, but as far as size and an ability to control defensive rebounds, he can help us on those areas,” Black told media men shortly after the win.

The former PBA Grand Slam coach noted how the Bolts struggled mightily during the Philippine Cup this season, having to rely mostly on center-on-commission Reynel Hugnatan to man the slot.

While Hugnatan continues to be a reliable undersized big man at 38, Black knew the battle inside the paint will be far different in the import-spiced conference.

“We figured we had to take care of that need, someone who can command the center spot, better similar to what we did with Arinze (Onauaku) and AD (Allen Durham), and since it’s an import conference, it gives us balance and gives us a strong inside presence,” explained Black.

In last season’s import conferences, Meralco had much success, reaching the semifinals in the 2016 Commissioner’s Cup behind the wide-bodied Onuaku, who was named Best Import, before finishing runner-up to Barangay Ginebra in the Governors’ Cup.

Meralco shoots for an early lead when it takes on sister team NLEX on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

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