ALEX Stepheson is steadily making Meralco shrug off its regrets about not being able to bring back Arinze Onuaku.
Although he has yet to hit top form, the burly Stepheson continues to live up to coach Norman Black’s expectations as he helped power the Bolts to a second win in as many games in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Now Black can’t wait for Stepheson to be at his best and be the dominant inside presence that Onuaku was in the same tournament last season that helped the Bolts finish a franchise-best fourth and earn for himself the Best Import award.
That performance helped Onuaku, who has had brief stints with the New Orleans Pelicans, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves, make it back to the NBA via the Orlando Magic.
In a 91-84 victory over NLEX last Sunday, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Stepheson tallied 24 rebounds on top of 18 points and three blocked shots, which helped Meralco follow up its 94-86 triumph over Mahindra on opening day last Friday.
“Alex was moving a little bit better tonight than he did in the first game,” Black said of the former Los Angeles Clipper and Memphis Grizzlie who notched only 11 points but did have 21 rebounds and three swats in his debut.
“There’s still has a lot of room for improvement, he still has to get in better shape,” added Black, “but he did a lot better tonight, scored around the basket which helped us a great deal, and he controlled the defensive rebounds and that was certainly a big thing for us.”
Stepheson, who got laid off for two months due to a hand injury he suffered while playing in China, shrugged off the compliments.
“I just try to do what coach asks of me, to play strong inside, rebound, play defense inside,” said Stepheson, adding garnering the Best Import plum is farthest from his mind.
“I’ve never had the Best Import in mind. I’m not trying to be the Best Import, that’s not my goal,” stated Stepheson. “I just want to play the best I can and win.”
Stepheson is also taking in stride the scrums that sometimes come with PBA play.
“It’s physical, I mean, I like it, though,” said Stepheson, who got slapped in the face by NLEX’s Eric Camson during a scramble.
“I got hit with a slap to the face, I don’t take it personal. I was upset at the moment but that’s basketball. It happens,” added Stepheson.
“I get hit, sometimes I hit people. I dish it out so I can take it, it’s nothing personal. Just physical ball. I like it.”
Camson was assessed with a flagrant foul-Penalty 1 and was taken out of the game. But the incident didn’t end there.
Moments later, Stepheson was seen exchanging words with people at the NLEX bench, particularly Road Warriors coach Yeng Guiao.
“I really didn’t hear what he (Guiao) said. I just said what I had to say and walked away,” related Stepheson, who also got confronted by a woman identified as the girlfriend of Bradwyn Guinto, whom he hit with a wayward elbow in the first half.
“Basketball is an aggressive sport, a bunch of alpha males out there competing,” said Stepheson. “People say stuff, things happen and it’s over now so it’s back to playing ball.”
What is foremost on Stepheson’s mind is getting back to his true form. “I’m getting there, probably another week, maybe two. I’ll be there. I’m probably 80 to 85 percent,” he said.
But already, the rebounds wanted of him by Black are piling up, enough to satisfy them both.
“The rebounds are coming. That’s my job,” said Stepheson.