MANILA, Philippines – PBA old-timer Reynel Hugnatan is still going strong at 43 years old.
Or is it 23 or 33?
It sure seemed like a younger version of Hugnatan who played against Phoenix as the seasoned forward lifted Meralco to a come-from-behind 109-98 win in its Philippine Cup debut on Saturday, June 11.
Playing only in the second half, Hugnatan authored a vintage performance that saw him post 17 points on a 3-of-5 clip from three-point land to go with 3 rebounds and 2 assists in just 16 minutes of play.
“I always know he is going to be ready and I’ll know he’ll never hesitate to score. He’ll always shoot the three-point shot and he’ll always post up guys,” said Bolts coach Norman Black.
“He has a lot of confidence in himself, even at age … What is it? 43?” Black added with a grin. “I’m just happy for him.”
The 19-year veteran proved to be the difference maker as his entry in the third quarter allowed his side to overhaul a 16-point Fuel Masters lead.
Hugnatan scored all of his 10 third-quarter points – including back-to-back triples late in the period – in a 16-5 run that sliced the Meralco deficit to 75-79 going into the final frame.
It did not stop there as Hugnatan sank another trey that gave the Bolts their first double-digit lead of the game at 104-92 with three minutes remaining.
“When I put Reynel in the game, the team responded very, very well. We started being able to take advantage of matchups. Because we took advantage of those matchups, we put a lot of pressure on their defense,” Black said.
Hugnatan finished the game with a staggering plus-minus of +25.
“When Reynel came in and scored, everybody started to be a little bit more patient and they started to let things happen instead of forcing shots, and then the shots started to fall.”
Although he mostly rode the bench in the Governors’ Cup last season, playing only in 12 of their 23 games in the conference, Hugnatan makes sure to keep himself in tip-top shape.
“Even if coach does not play me often, I’m always ready,” Hugnatan said in Filipino.
“You’ll never know when you’re name is going to be called, when you’re going to play. I’m always ready. If coach calls my number, I know I’ll be able to perform.”
It also helps that Hugnatan – the oldest in the team – has earned the trust of his teammates despite being out of the rotation last conference.
Hugnatan averaged just 6.6 minutes in the Governors’ Cup, a tournament where Meralco reached the finals but fell prey anew to Barangay Ginebra.
“Credit to my teammates who still believe in me. When I’m open, coach tells me that I need to take the shot. Fortunately, they fell so I stayed longer in the game.” – Rappler.com