He may have Guam emblazoned across his chest, but Jericho Cruz said his 25-point, 7-assist, 4-rebound performance in the U.S. territory’s impressive 103-82 victory over Hong Kong last Sunday was also dedicated to his home islands of the Northern Marianas.
“I’m doing this for the island of Saipan and Guam,” said the 30-year-old Marianas High School alumnus in a social media message to Saipan Tribune from Amman, Jordan where he and the Guam national basketball team took on Hong Kong anew last night in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers.
“I got more work to do. I’m just glad that we got our first win and hopefully it’s not the last,” added Cruz.
The 6’1” NLEX Road Warrior in the Philippine Basketball Association said even if he’s suiting up for Guam, where he has paternal roots, he will always play hard for his loved ones and friends on Saipan.
“I just want to thank them for their support. I appreciate them…I feel great and my mindset is always to win,” he added.
Coming into Game 2 of their bubble series against the former British Crown colony, Cruz said he’s approaching it as if it’s the first game again and will play to the best of his ability.
“I’m not expecting anything. I’m just gonna go out there and work hard as always.”
Guam men’s national basketball team coach E.J. Calvo said Cruz finally showed what he’s capable of against Hong Kong Sunday night.
“In Game 1, Jericho made a statement and I expect him to continue to not only look for his own shot, but also create for others,” he said.
Cruz’s breakout performance was in stark contrast to his anemic 4-point performance against New Zealand in February 2020 that Guam lost to the tune of 113-94. That game served as Cruz’s debut for Guam.
“Jericho is a pro, and doesn’t need a lot of motivation to play hard. I just need to provide an opportunity for him to succeed with spacing and good timing in our offense,” said Calvo when asked about his ward’s complete 180-degree turnaround.
Calvo also echoed Cruz’s words that Cruz and company are not only representing Guam in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers but the rest of Micronesia as well.
“We have a big second game against Hong Kong and adjustments have been made. Our mission to get these two wins and advance to the FIBA Asia Cup for the first time. This is history for the Pacific Islands and we are proudly representing the region as well as our island of Guam,” he said.
Northern Mariana Islands Basketball president James Lee, who is a former teammate of Cruz in the CNMI national men’s basketball team, also came away impressed with Cruz’s showing in the first game against Hong Kong.
“Jericho and his team look great out there. Great chemistry and trust which leads to great ball movement and open shots for him and for his teammates,” said Lee, who even joked that Guam was lucky he didn’t see action for the Hong Kong side. The Marpac beverage sales manager’s family hails from Hong Kong.
Rollers Basketball Association head coach Joe Diaz said Cruz remains an inspiration to young basketball players in the Commonwealth.
“Man it’s awesome for me to see a Saipan kid to be playing in that high level competition. What Jericho Cruz just did is show the kids back in the CNMI that dreams do come true if you just work hard for it. I have no words seeing him play against Hong Kong in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers. I’m so proud of him. I hope one day he can come back home and do a camp here in the CNMI,” he said.
Joemar Tumaquip, a sergeant in the U.S. Marines, said he’s proud of his former teammate, adding that he’s happy all of Cruz’s hard work the past several months is finally paying off.
“We’ve known each other for a long time now, I don’t even know where to start talking about growing up and playing ball together. He trained and worked hard with the Guam national team while they were here in California. He’s finally blending in nicely with his teammates, plus he’s having fun,” said Tumaquip who played with Cruz in the CNMI national men’s basketball team and MHS Dolphins.