By Jon Perez
Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jericho Cruz is excited and humbled to be considered for the Philippine Team that will compete in the 27th Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar in December this year.
Cruz was among the top amateur standouts that Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas executive director Sonny Barrios said they will invite to tryout for the Philippine Team that will defend the gold medal in the biennial games. Nineteen players will be invited to join the pool and only 12 will don the national colors to the SEA Games.
Cruz, who suited up for the CNMI National Team during the 2009 Oceania Basketball Tournament and the 2010 Micronesian Games, in a text message, said he was surprised that SBP has picked him to try out for a spot on the Philippine Team.
“I didn’t know that news, I haven’t got the invite yet. But I would love to play for the Philippines,” said Cruz, who was born in the Philippines but grew up on Saipan and honed his skills on the island. “Being invited just to try out for the Philippine Team flatters me. It will be a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Cruz has just concluded his second season with the Adamson University in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), the country’s premier collegiate league. His Soaring Falcons finished seventh in the eight-team field with a 4-10 card.
Cruz was Adamson’s leading scorer, posting 14.5 points per game to place ninth overall among the league’s scoring leaders. He also logged in averages of 4.4 in rebounds and 3.2 in steals to finish 19th in the statistical points race. The sophomore shot 46.2 percent from the field and a respectable 54.2 percent from the free throw line, but have to improve his three-point shooting after a 17.9 percent clip from beyond the arc. The 3.9 turnovers per contest Cruz registered the whole season is the lone blot on his impressive resume. He once recorded nine turnovers in the Falcons’ 74-71 loss to the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws on July 28.
Meanwhile, besides Cruz, two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bobby Ray Parks Jr. of National University, 2001 UAAP Rookie of the Year Kiefer Ravena of Ateneo, FEU’s RR Garcia, San Beda’s Garvo Lanete and Jake Pascual, and naturalized center Marcus Douthit are also being considered on the 19-player pool.
Parks Jr., Ravena, Garcia, Lanete and Pascual are part of the Norman Black-coached Team Philippines that won the gold medal in the 2011 SEA Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia. Douthit is also a member of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Championship-bound Philippine Team.
Gilas cadet pool players Matt Ganuelas and Kevin Alas, Asean Basketball League veteran Chris Banchero, San Beda’s Kyle Pascual, reigning UAAP MVP Terrence Romeo and Mark Belo of Far Eastern University, University of the East’s Roi Sumang, Letran’s Raymund Almazan, Arellano’s Prince Caperal, University of Santo Tomas’s Kevin Ferrer, De La Salle’s Arnold Van Opstal and Ateneo’s Chris Newsome are on the list, too, according to Barrios.
Barrios, the former Philippine Basketball Association commissioner, added head coach Jong Uichico and assistants Nash Racela and Josh Reyes will select the final 12 players several weeks before the competition begins. The SEA Games will run from Dec. 11 to 22.
The Philippines won its 15th gold medal in basketball (since the sport was first played in the biennial meet in 1977) in 2011 after beating Thailand in the finals, 85-57. The PH Nationals posted a 41-point winning margin in the six games they played in Indonesia.