Mercado back to leader role and 'having fun again' with Barako Bull

MANILA, Philippines — Head coach Koy Banal said Sol Mercado looked out of breath in his first game with the Barako Bull Energy.

The veteran guard certainly had every reason to be exhausted. 

It has been a year of adjustments for the 30-year old currently playing in his 7th year in the PBA. Now he is making his way back to his true nature as a prolific and crafty scorer with his new team.

"I'm just going back to having fun again," Mercado said when asked how he is acclimating himself to being the leader and primary offensive option again, a role he did not have during his time with the San Miguel Beermen.

"I might be moved again, you'll never know. It's part of the job. I'll just go out there and play hard every game and do the best that I can to help us get as many wins as we can."

Quickly adapting to his environment and navigating one identity crisis after another, it seems, are among his assets.

After spending a year with a young Globalport squad, acting as a leader and mentor— most notably to then rookie Terrence Romeo — Mercado was traded to San Miguel right before the 2014 Commissioner's Cup, where he became a back-up guard in a loaded roster. 

His numbers dipped, but it did not matter, Mercado said, as long as the team was winning.

"They needed a point guard that plays defense and runs the team and we were successful," he shared.

The guard who once lit up the scoreboard at will receded into a quieter role. It looked like Mercado lost something in his game with San Miguel, but in reality, he gained even more.

"Everybody thinks I lost my game, that I can't score," said the 2008 5th overall pick, who had double-figure averages in points for every year until joining San Miguel. "There's a difference between choosing not to score and can't score. It felt good to go back to that style of play (with Barako)."

Right before the trade deadline heading into the 2015 PBA Philippine Cup playoffs, Mercado — along with future draft picks — was shipped back to Globalport in exchange for Alex Cabagnot.

This tested Mercado's ability to adapt once more, as he was dropped from a championship-bound San Miguel crew down to a quarterfinals team, which semifinalists Talk 'N Text obliterated in one game.

But the team-hopping did not stop there. He was then traded again to Barako this time, in exchange for Denok Miranda and a future draft pick.

Mercado also had to overcome a foot injury that hobbled him in the Philippine Cup. He underwent surgery before finally joining the Energy in practice just last Saturday.

He may still be getting into game shape during the team's first win at Blackwater's expense, 92-70, in the 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup on Wednesday night, January 28. But his 20 points and 3 assists proved otherwise. 

"That was part of the biggest adjustment to me, the conditioning," Mercado explained. "I haven't played that style of basketball for a year when I was in San Miguel, but I'll be better."

Barako Bull, it seems, is the beneficiary of a learned and more experienced Mercado.

"He delivered," Banal said. "Right now we are not missing the services of Denok Miranda. We got a gem as well in Sol Mercado. He did a good job in leading the team on both ends."

Mercado's resilience will be tested again as he tries to revive his offensive nature and help Barako break through.

"That's what my role is here, push the ball, be aggressive, be on attack mode as much as I can," he said.

On Wednesday night, an injury and a trade spree behind him, Mercado was hailed Best Player of the Game. 

Facing the camera, engaging a broadcast interview, he was everything but tired. He looked rejuvenated. —