Mark Cruz and Jerwin Gaco spent time together with the Star Hotshots last year, and that familiarity between them is helping the Tanduay Rhum Masters hugely in their 2017 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup playoff run.
In the Rhum Masters’ 66-55 clipping of the Cignal-San Beda Hawkeyes in Game One of their semis clash on Tuesday night at the Marikina Sports Center, it was the two ex-pros that paved the way en route to the series-leading victory.
Gaco finished with a game-high 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting along with seven boards, while the diminutive Cruz backed him up with 15 markers spiked by two triples.
Clearly, it was Gaco and Cruz that served as Tanduay’s anchor in the win. And for them, being familiar with each other truly made an impact.
“Oo. Malaking impact yun para sa amin. Tagal din namin magkakasama,” said the 36-year-old Gaco.
“Nakatulong yung samahan namin. Hindi na kami nahirapan mag-adjust,” Cruz added.
And with that, the two have nothing but praise for each other and for their respective contributions to the young Rhum Masters.
“Sobrang laking tulong ni Mark Cruz. Sobrang galing niya mag-point guard. Siya talaga nagdadala sa amin.
“Siya yung nagli-lead ng offense lalo pagdating sa crucial, nasa kanya yung bola. Sobrang proud ako sa kanya,” Gaco remarked about the 5-foot-7 gunslinger.
“Yung leadership ni Jerwin, nahahawa talaga kami. Go hard sya everytime,” the 24-year-old Cruz said, praising the team’s “kuya”.
But Gaco and Cruz did not only hold themselves accountable for Tanduay’s stellar outing in Game 1, as they both voiced that the other Rhum Masters also deserved to be given credit.
“Credit din sa hustle ng lahat,” said the one-time NCAA champion Cruz.
“Talagang collective effort ang nangyari kaya successful kami sa Game 1 na ito.”
“Yung mga college players, nadagdagan yung kumpiyansa nila kasi nadadala sa laro eh — unang-una sa depensa, tapos sa opensa tulong-tulong kami,” Gaco added.
As Game Two looms, Gaco does not want to make any assurances that they will close out the series, only hoping they can do so.
“Ayoko magsalita ng tapos. Practice ulit bukas, pahinga, para may lakas sa second game. Hopefully makuha namin second game,” Gaco commented.