Former Ateneo coach Black least surprised as former Eagles Salva, Chua score career-highs in PBA

Justin Chua played like a King Eagle for the Fuel Masters. PBA Media Group

By Ivan Saldajeno

QUEZON CITY—If there is someone who is not surprised that former Ateneo stars Nico Salva and Justin Chua shone brightly on Wednesday night in the Phoenix-Meralco contest in the PBA Philippine Cup, that would be their college coach, Norman Black.

Chua put up 24 points for the Fuel Masters, while Salva dropped 22 for the Bolts, both career-highs.

"For some reason, when they play against each other, they bring out the best in each other," Black said.

Salva and Chua were key figures in the Blue Eagles' five-peat run from 2008-2012 alongside Greg Slaughter and Poy Erram, who have now carved a name for themselves in the PBA.

"Both Justin and Nico were good players in Ateneo. They helped Ateneo win a lot of championships," Black, who engineered the said string of UAAP championships as head coach, further said.

But in the case of Chua and Salva, who were drafted into the big league in 2013, just right after the five-peat, they struggled to find their mark in the pros but have now begun to make a legend of their own.

"What you see happening is what normally happens when most players enter the PBA. Very few players come in and become superstars right away. It's really after three to four years when they start to mature. Their bodies get stronger. They get a little bit of experience, and you see their talents start to come out," continued Black, one of the most prolific PBA imports of all-time.

He then said that the time has finally arrived for them to become stellar.

"It's their sixth year in the league. They're used to the league already. Their coaches are giving them opportunities, and they're taking advantage of it," Black added.

However, Black further lauded Salva, who is now making a name with Meralco—with Black at the helm.

"I'm happy for Nico. He struggled early in his career. He seems to have found a home with Meralco, and he's performing very well for us. He played well last conference, and he's pouring it over into this conference," the current Bolts mentor added. "But in fairness to him, he's probably one of the hardest workers on my team. He's consistently a gym rat. That's the result of hard work."

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