PBA Philippine Cup

Storybook ending for Nenad Vucinic in PH return as Meralco claims historic crown

Delfin Dioquino

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Storybook ending for Nenad Vucinic in PH return as Meralco claims historic crown

MENTOR. Active consultant Nenad Vucinic in action for the Meralco Bolts in the 2024 PBA Philippine Cup.

PBA Images

'Thank God that I got the call to come back,' says Meralco active consultant Nenad Vucinic as he helps guide the Bolts to their first-ever PBA championship two years since he left the team

MANILA, Philippines – The decision to bring back Nenad Vucinic has paid dividends for Meralco.

Tapped to be an active consultant, Vucinic helped the Bolts capture their first-ever PBA championship two years since he left the team as Meralco dethroned San Miguel for the Philippine Cup crown on Sunday, June 16.

“I really wanted to come back, to be with Meralco. Thank God that I got the call to come back,” said Vucinic, who called the shots alongside Bolts head coach Luigi Trillo.

Vucinic came to the country at the start of 2022 supposedly to serve as a consultant to former Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin – rekindling their ties forged when they were still with the New Zealand Tall Blacks.

Their reunion, however, fell through after Baldwin “stepped down” from his post, with the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas handing Chot Reyes the coaching reins in January 2022 ahead of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

Vucinic said he wanted to leave but got persuaded by both Baldwin and Reyes to give it a shot.

The Serbian-Kiwi mentor stayed and even served as temporary national team head coach for the third window of the Asian Qualifiers due to Reyes’ commitment with his PBA team TNT.

Vucinic also joined Meralco as a consultant to former Bolts head coach Norman Black in May 2022.

But Vucinic ultimately vacated his posts at Meralco and Gilas Pilipinas in August 2022 and opted to return to New Zealand.

“At the time, there were some politics around Gilas. And I have to be honest, Tab Baldwin was the head of program at the time. I came because of him. He is my friend and I tried to help him,” said Vucinic.

“Then when he lost the job, I really wanted to go home. Coach Chot came to me and asked me to stay. I spoke to Coach Tab, he asked me to stay and help Coach Chot with Gilas because he really does have the Gilas program at heart.”

“I stayed. And then there were some issues. There were some public things between Coach Tab and Gilas. And I said, ‘Well, I could not stay here anymore.’ But I have full respect for the SBP, Gilas, and I wish them all the best now.”

Deep down, though, Vucinic grew so fond of the Philippines and its people that he wanted another crack at coaching in the country.

Fortunately for Vucinic, the Bolts acquired his services again in May 2023.

“I feel very comfortable here. I feel very comfortable because the people are good. They have values and they’re trying to do the best they can,” said Vucinic, who has coached in Estonia, Italy, China, Lebanon, and Japan.

“Players, whether it is Gilas or Meralco, they’re soldiers. They listen to the coaches, they respect the coaches, they respect the hierarchy.”

“I can tell you from my experience, I’ve been around the world, it is very difficult to have [those] these days. There is so much politics involved with players, their agents, even fans are involved.”

With Vucinic on board, Meralco managed to turn around an inauspicious start that saw the Bolts fall to 11th place after losing five of their first eight games before they ended the elimination round on a three-game winning streak.

In the playoffs, Meralco swept NLEX in their best-of-three quarterfinals then survived Barangay Ginebra in their best-of-seven semifinals that went the distance, with the Bolts finally beating the Gin Kings in a seven-game series.

Before this conference, Meralco lost each of its four previous appearances in the finals – all against Ginebra.

Tagged as a heavy underdog against the Beermen, the Bolts flipped the script behind their vaunted defense as they limited San Miguel to under 90 points in each of their four wins in the title duel.

Vucinic said the title would not have been possible without the players’ faith in the team.

“The thing is, when a new face comes in, especially a new face from across the world, and this team has been under huge pressure to get that championship, we struggled, I have to say,” said Vucinic.

“Credit to the players. They bought in. They worked hard, even if it was very hard for them to understand what they need to do.”

“We were down at the bottom. And players could easily turn their backs on the coaches, easily,” Vucinic added. “Credits, more than anybody, to the players who stuck with it and believed what we were teaching.” – Rappler.com

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Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.