The first time Meralco coach Norman Black scouted Noy Baclao almost 15 years ago, the big man from Bacolod City was a gangly, 6-foot-4 center who had raw offensive skills, but with terrific defensive instincts.

Black wasted little time recruiting Baclao to play for the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the big man eventually helped carry the school to two UAAP championships. That feat boosted his stock, leading to his ascent as the first pick of the 2010 PBA Draft over another Ateneo stalwart in Rabeh Al-Hussaini.

A decade later, Black and Baclao are reunited at Meralco with hopes that the reunion will lead to a glorious ending for the Bolts, who have yet to win a PBA crown since joining the league in 2010.

“I’m excited to play for coach Norman again,” the 32-year-old Baclao told the Inquirer. “We were together in TNT a few years ago and we fell short. Now I have an opportunity to try and help him [win a championship].”

Baclao, who has carved a niche as a solid defensive player, is still recovering from a ruptured patella tendon last September in the opening game of the Governor’s Cup while playing for the Alaska Aces where he served as Sonny Thoss’ chief backup.

After failing to come to terms with the Aces, where he played in four championship series in four seasons, Baclao became a free agent in February.

Meralco team manager Paolo Trillo, who was also the Blue Eagles’ team manager when Baclao was still with the Eagles, signed the big man even though he has yet to recover from the injury.

Baclao admitted his last few months with the Aces proved difficult as he struggled with the injury and also saw the team eliminated in the quarterfinals. It didn’t help that Baclao’s contract was up at the end of the season.

As contract talks with the Aces dragged on, Baclao admitted he had no salary for a couple of months until he signed the free agent deal with Meralco.

“It was depressing,” Baclao recalled. “I felt I was going to retire at Alaska. Being injured and not having the security of a contract because of the disagreements in the deal, it was a really tough time.”

Black said Baclao’s presence gives them another defensive anchor aside from Raymond Almazan, who also had the unenviable task of guarding imports. “Noy gives us depth and a strong defensive presence,” Black said. “He’s capable of defending imports.

For Baclao, Meralco’s decision to take a chance on him is more than enough motivation to work even harder in rehab. Black doesn’t expect Baclao to be available until July.

The COVID-19 pandemic could actually push the season back to October, which means Baclao could be available as soon as the season resumes.

“We don’t want to rush him,” Black said. “It’s just to great to have him on the team and I think he can really help us win a championship.” INQ

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