Sol Mercado playing inspired ball

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The Sol Train is having the best year of his career

The first time I saw Sol Mercado play, I was elated. A 6’1, 220 lbs beast that had mad handles and could get to the rim anytime he wanted was a pretty sight. He showed flashes of brilliance every time he touched the ball.

 

During the early part of his career, Mercado – like any player who had just entered the league – was immature. He had raw talent and was guilty of making mistakes on and off the court. From an up and coming Rain or Shine team, he was traded to the Meralco Bolts in his third season.

 

Now in his fifth year, Mercado seems poised to control his emotions, and is approaching the game more differently than he used to. And it’s probably because of the partnership he has formed with his Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio. The fifth overall pick of the 2008 draft has outspokenly said he is comfortable with his coach. Though he admits his relationship with Gregorio has been daunting and daunting for him, he has found a way to trust his instructor, knowing it will pave the way for better things.

 

“My relationship with him has grown significantly. It’s probably the best relationship I have ever had with any of my coaches. He’s put a lot of trust in me in leading this team because he believes in me. As a player, that's all you can ask from a coach. So I take on the challenge head on and hopefully, I don’t let him down.”

 

As an effect, his game drastically improved since he got traded. He caught the attention of many, including coaches and several peers that earned him a spot in the national team pool that competed in international basketball tournaments.

 

In the offseason, Mercado was tapped to be part of the Smart-Gilas national team that won the championship in the Jones Cup. “To actually win something representing our country as a team was one of the best feelings in the world,” he says.

 

“That experience helped develop my mental game more than anything. Coach Chot [Reyes] was very big on teamwork and chemistry amongst each other - not just on the court, but off the court as well. And I brought that attitude back to Meralco. It really helped me open up to my teammates, getting them to trust me and in turn trusting them. That overall has helped a lot with my game.”

 

But the one experience that changed Sol utterly was the passing away of his father two weeks before the PBA season started. His Puerto Rican father, Aaron, suffered from a sudden heart attack at age 51.

 

The unexpected mishap was an eye-opener, most would say. With that void inside him, Mercado took the loss and diverted it into motivation. He saw things from a different perspective and vowed to embrace the game positively.

 

“Losing my Pops was very challenging. God showed me how valuable life is and how blessed I am to even wake up in the morning, let alone be playing basketball for a living. I used to take the little things for granted and I played basketball with a chip on my shoulder, always trying to prove people wrong. But that wasn't the best way to play the game.”

 

“I told myself I was going to go back to having fun and enjoy the moments doing what I love. My Pops never got the opportunity to watch me play in the PBA. So I play all out for him, now that I know he's in heaven watching every game.”

 

Before the Philippine Cup began, Gregorio stressed he would encourage a free-flowing type of offense to give his players more freedom on the court – expecting Mercado to be the focal point. The change, in turn, has brought out the best in him.

 

Through 12 games, the Sol Train is averaging 20.5 points, three rebounds, 6.6 assists, and a steal. And he’s been a much efficient player than he was before, averaging career-highs in both 3-point field goal and free throw percentages. He leads the league in scoring and assists – so undoubtedly, Meracdo is having the best year so far of his career. Evident that he has taken on the challenge.

 

His no-holds-barred style of play is still there, but the inner flame in him has evolved. He’s playing inspired ball and there’s no saying what Mercado can still accomplish in the league. If he continues to develop his game on and off the court, he’s bound for bigger things.

 

This high-octane train is on the right track.

 

JC Ansis JC Ansis @jcansis


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