MERALCO gets its baptism of fire when it meets host Mono Vampire Thailand in one of four opening-day matches in the FIBA Asia Champion’s Cup 2018 in Nonthaburi, Thailand on Sept. 27.
Led by two-time PBA Best Import winner Allen Durham and 7-2 Canadian Liam Paul McMorrow, the Bolts will tangle with the Thais at 3:30 p.m.in a Group B encounter at the Stadium 29.
Meralco will also battle B. League titlist Alvark Tokyo the following day, Sept. 28 and close out its group elimination assignment against defending champion Al-Riyadi of Lebanon on Sept. 29.
The PBA-backed Bolts, who are seekung to end the country’s 22-year title drought, need to win atleast two of their three assignments to advance to the semifinals of the premier Asia club competition.
In Group A are CBA champion Liaoning Flying Leopards of China, Pauian Archiland of Chinese-Taipei, SK Knights of Korea and Petrochimi of Iran.
“It will be very difficult (to go up against top club teams in Asia), but we’ll do our best to represent our country well,” said Meralco coach Norman Black shortly after Meralco was tapped to replace San Miguel Beer as the Philippine representative to the tournament.
The last time the Philippines won the Champions Cup was in 1996 courtesy of Hapee Toothpaste, which was then reinforced by Bobby Parks and Tony Harris.
Last year, the Isaiah Austin-reinforced Chooks-to-Go Philippine team finished fifth in Chenzhou, China.
This time, Meralco will rely on Durham, the 6-6 power-forward from Wyoming who bagged back-to-back MVP plums in the 2016 and 2017 PBA Governors Cup, and McMorrow, the 7-2 former ice hockey player from Vancouver who played for Barako Bull in the PBA in 2015.
Meralco team manager Paolo Trillo said the 31-year-old McMorrow will be a good addition to the Bolts’ injury-plagued lineup.
“Aside from being big, he’s also quick and he can run the floor, which is the type of import we need in this kind of tournament,” said Trillo before the team’s departure today (Sept. 25)
In a pre-tournament report, FIBA Asia said all the eight teams to play with “limitless effort for national pride even though they will be playing under the name of their clubs.”
Other opening-day matches on Sept. 27 will pit CBA champion Liaoning Flying Leopards of China against Pauian Archiland of Chinese-Taipei and SK Knights of Korea against Petrochimi of Iran in Group A; and defending champion Al Riyadi against Alvark Tokyo.
Al-Riyadi defeated Kashgar-China, 88-59, to capture the championship in Chenzhou, China last year.