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Meralco’s NBA veteran import gets litmus test

Johnny O’Bryant faces an early test when Meralco battles a red-hot NorthPort squad in the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup on Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

O’Bryant, who played with three National Basketball Association teams since being taken in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014, is tipped to draw attention when the Bolts open their campaign against the Batang Pier in the second game at 5:45 p.m.

Meanwhile, Adonis Tierra will continue carrying the coaching cudgels for NLEX when it confronts Blackwater in the 3 p.m. first game.

Tierra, who served as interim coach following the departure of Yeng Guiao to Rain or Shine, will retain his role as newly-appointed mentor Frankie Lim will serve a one-game suspension he incurred while calling the shorts for Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the Commissioner’s Cup in 2015.

Tierra, however, clarified that he will run the system of Lim, who already had a couple of practice sessions with the Road Warriors since getting formally appointed as head coach last week.

In his first game as interim mentor, Tierra was impressive as he guided the Road Warriors to a 96-90 win that spoiled Guiao’s homecoming with the Elasto Painters.

Blackwater coach Ariel Vanguardia said they have to be wary of the Road Warriors, especially since they have an array of gunners led by Kevin Alas, Don Trollano and Mike Nieto with a former Los Angeles Lakers rotation player in Earl Clark as import.

“They beat Rain or Shine with their three-point shooting in their first game and they even beat us good in the Philippine Cup,” said Vanguardia, referring to their sorry loss last year where they were held to only record-tying two points in the first quarter.

Still, focus will be on O’Bryant.

Officially measured at 6-foot-8, O’Bryant has played for three NBA teams – the Milwaukee Bucks, the Denver Nuggets and the Charlotte Hornets.

He came from the same draft class headed by Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, Julius Randel of the New York Knicks and Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls and made a decent run in the NBA posting career averages of 3.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 147 regular season games.

But more than his NBA experience, O’Bryant has been regarded as a winner as he led various international teams, including those in Serbia and Israel, to the title.

His winning pedigree is the primary reason why Meralco coach Norman Black is bringing him as reinforcement who could, hopefully, help them end their string of fruitless performances.

After all, the Bolts are still in search of the elusive championship since joining the league in 2010.

They came up with runner-up finishes in the Governors’ Cup of 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021 before making it to the Philippine Cup finals the previous conference.

“He’s a good player,” Black told The Daily Tribune in a telephone interview.

“From the way I see him a month ago until now in practice, he’s a good player. He’s won championships in some of the leagues he played for, including Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv and that’s a pretty strong league.”

Black said O’Bryant, the first import to arrive for the midseason conference, will let his game do the talking.

“He can score and a good passer, too, so he can get his teammates involved,” he said.

“I don’t want to build him up more, but all I can say is he’s a good player until we see him in actual games.”

The Bolts will face a Batang Pier squad that had already played in two games – and pushed tournament leader Bay Area Dragons to the limit.

A buzzer-beating triple by Myles Powell sent the visiting Bay Area team to its second win in a row via a 105-104 squeaker of NorthPort a few days ago.

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