By JON PEREZ
Special to the saipan tribune
MANILA, Philippines-Jericho Cruz is anxious to finally make his debut in the bright lights and wildly cheered environment of University Athletic Association of the Philippines, the country's premier collegiate sporting league.
And the 21-year-old cager from Saipan has all the reasons to experience rookie jitters. After all Adamson University coach Leo Austria has confirmed he will play a starting role in the Soaring Falcons' roster in the 75th season that opens today at the newly built SM Mall of Asia Arena.
“I can't describe what I'm feeling right now. I guess I'm just excited to play and motivated to play at my best. I'm so blessed to join this team,” said Cruz, who transferred from the Rizal Technological University Blue Thunder to Adamson after being spotted by Austria in a preseason tournament.
Cruz immediately made an impact with RTU in the National Capital Region Athletic Association where he was named to the Mythical Team in his first season after averaging in double digits to lead the Blue Thunder to the finals last year.
He sat out UAAP Season 74 for his residency and started playing for the Falcons in this year's FilOil Flying V Preseason tournament where he averaged 10.1 points a game.
Too bad the Falcons, who finished tied with College of Saint Benilde with an even 4-4 elimination round record in Group B, suffered a 66-71 setback to the Blazers that allowed the latter to clinch the quarterfinals berth.
Cruz said hard work and dedication to the game helped him in his basketball career. “Expect that I'll play each game like it is my last game. I will do anything that coach Leo tells me.”
He also thanked Austria for believing in him. “Without coach Leo, I wouldn't be playing for Adamson right now. He recruited me from RTU. So I'm thankful that he got me to become a Falcon.”
“Coach Leo helped me improve my game, mentally and physically.And he has the right words to say in order to motivate the team,” Cruz added.
Austria has also praised his prized recruit's basketball skills. “Jericho has blended well with the team and he is a very versatile player. He has good defensive skills and has a decent shot. He is still adjusting to the game and hopefully he won't get nervous in his first game.”
Cruz and the Falcons, however, are facing a tall order since they will play four-time champion and five-peat seeking the Ateneo Blue Eagles whom they defeated last season to prevent a possible 14-game sweep.
Austria might still have an ace up his sleeve as he intends to use the 6-foot-1 Cruz as a big point guard against their opponents' smaller playmakers.
“Just like Jayson Castro and Ryan Reyez. Jericho is an explosive player who can do many things at a high level. He is more of an offguard than a point guard. He is not yet an accomplished playmaker where he gets his teammates involved but he is going to get there.”