MANILA, Philippines – Justin Chua was the lone Meralco starter not to break into double-digits in their 91-84 triumph over the NLEX Road Warriors last Sunday in the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup.
The former Ateneo de Manila University forward settled for six points and five rebounds in over 23 minutes of playing time, while all of their other starters scored at least 12 points.
Yet all six of those points came in a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter, when Meralco seized control of the game for good.
Chua scored all of his points in a 12-0 run to open the payoff period, when Meralco went with an all-Filipino line-up. They turned a slim 69-67 lead into an 81-67 advantage and Chua capped the run with a lay-up with 7:50 left to play.
His efforts earned the praise of Meralco coach Norman Black, who has been Chua's mentor since his collegiate days at the Ateneo.
"Justin is out there for two reasons. He's a very smart player, he doesn't back down, and he doesn't hurt you. What I mean by that is he doesn't make very many mental mistakes, offensively or defensively," Black said after the game.
"As far as execution is concerned, he's very sound, and that helps us a great deal. The second reason he's out there is because he can hit open shots," he added. "He missed a couple down the stretch, but for the most part, he can make an open jump shot, he can score and finish around the basket."
"And that's what we really need this conference."
Chua, for his part, is simply thankful that Black gave him a chance. The 10th overall pick in the 2013 PBA Rookie Draft, Chua has already had a well-traveled career, with stops in San Miguel and Phoenix before he landed in Meralco last season.
An ACL injury robbed him of an opportunity to play, and Chua only returned to action in the Governors' Cup. He averaged 10 minutes per game in Meralco's All-Filipino Cup campaign, but so far in the Commissioner's Cup, Chua has started both games and is averaging over 21 minutes per game.
"Nagpapasalamat ako kay Coach Norman dahil binigyan niya ako ng chance with this team," said Chua, who won five UAAP championships with Black as a member of the Ateneo Blue Eagles. "I just worked my a** off, kept training, at nabigyan lang ng chance ni Coach Norman."
[I'm grateful to Coach Norman for giving me a chance with this team.]
Chua is now hopeful that he can keep repaying Black for the trust that the multi-titled coach has placed in him.
"Sana, maibalik ko 'yung kabaitan niya sa akin," he said. "Hopefully, ma-sustain ko ito."
[I hope I can repay his trust and sustain my level of play.]
"Since college, si coach malaki tiwala niya sa akin. Sobrang grateful ako. Basta every game, kailangan kong ayusin. Gagawin ko lang 'yung best ko always and try to help our big men out," he added.
[Since college, Coach Norman has always trusted me. I'm very grateful. I will just play my best every game and try to help our big men out.]
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