by Tito S. Talao
Manila, Philippines – For now, it’s still black smoke coming out of the chimney of the Meralco Bolts.
Asked cryptically whether “white smoke has come out of the Sistine Chapel,” signifying the Bolts had chosen a new import, Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio texted back yesterday morning:
“3:45 A.M. in Vatican City. Cardinals are still fast asleep. No final decision yet for a new Pope. I am expecting the white smoke around 8 p.m. onwards Manila time.”
So the wait continues.
In centuries-old Vatican tradition, white smoke billowing out of the Sistine Chapel meant the papal conclave convened to elect a new Bishop of Rome had chosen its next leader; black smoke rising indicated no decision had yet been reached.
Apparently, the whole of Wednesday evening up to the following morning wasn’t enough for Bolts management and coaches to decide whether to retain 6-foot-11 import Brian Butch or to bring in NBA veteran Darnell Jackson.
Hence the need for extra rounds of deliberation.
“It’s hard to make a decision now because he (Butch) didn’t play his normal game due to intestinal flu; he was not in tip-top shape,” said Gregorio after the Bolts absorbed a 96-79 loss to Rain or Shine in the PLDT Home TVolution PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“But still one has to be made that will revolve around what’s best for the team, nothing personal. We’ll see where it goes in the next 24 hours.”
Butch, who kept Jackson in the shadows following a masterful 40 points, 31 rebounds performance against Air21, got stricken by suspected food poisoning Saturday morning that triggered agonizing stomach spasms all day long up to the RoS game where he struggled with 11 points and 13 rebounds in just 30 minutes.
Dehydrated and doubled-over from pain, he was driven to the Cardinal Santos Hospital where he remains confined.
“I’m not a fair-weather coach and right now our concern is for Brian to first be okay. The locals really feel compassion for him because he was really chilling during the game,” said Gregorio, who didn’t discourage suggestions Jackson, their import-in-waiting, could be getting a little impatient.
“Well, he’s been watching from the sideline for more than seven days now,” said Gregorio. “But the positive thing about this is he’s acclimatized with the conditions here, with the temperature and the jetlag.”
So will a new import eventually be named tonight?
“I need to know Brian’s status first,” said Gregorio firmly.
The vigil goes on then, with nothing certain whether the smoke would change color or not.