The opportunity to play for the Philippine team knocked on the door of Kevin Alas, and it made him decide to forego his final playing year with Colegio de San Juan de Letran in the NCAA.
Alas was just coming off a runner-up finish with the Knights in 2012. He had the chance to better that finish the following season, but could not pass up the chance to play and hone his game with the national squad.
“At that time I believe it was 2013, may final year pa ako with Letran. There was an opportunity for me to play sa Gilas Cadets before eh,” he told the 2OT podcast, presented by SMART Sports and supported by Team Phenom Sportswear.
“I took that opportunity. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity na makapaglaro sa national team eh,” added the two-time NCAA Mythical Five member.
“Ang dami kong nalaruan noon eh.”
The gun-slinging point guard then got to play in the 2013 Southeast Asian Games held in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.
That crew, named Sinag Pilipinas, was led by naturalized center Marcus Douthit. Douthit provided the veteran presence in a squad mainly composed of the then-top amateur players back then, including Jericho Cruz.
Cruz was very much like Alas. A transferee from Rizal Technological University, he also had one more playing year left with Adamson University in 2014, but he informed school officials that he would no longer be returning.
The reason? Aside from his pro aspirations, the departure of coach Leo Austria played a factor. Austria stepped down in 2013 following the Falcons’ disappointing campaign in UAAP Season 76.
“One of the reasons kasi, umalis si Coach Leo Austria. So, pag-alis niya kasi, medyo gusto ko na rin sumama,” recalled Cruz, a shifty guard who grew up in Saipan.
“And that time, Coach Josh Reyes invited me to try out for SEA Games. Ginrab ko ‘yung opportunity na ‘yun. And naging teammates kami ni Kev.”
Cruz, Alas, and the rest of Sinag went on to dominate the tourney. They swept the competition, giving the Philippines its 15th men’s basketball gold medal in the regional biennial meet.
Following that tour of duty with the national team, Cruz and Alas would both go on to have solid stints in the PBA D-League, with the former playing a key cog for the Blackwater Sports.
Alas, meanwhile, steered NLEX to the 2014 Aspirants’ Cup title — the franchise’s fifth of a league-record six championships — where he was also crowned the conference’s Most Valuable Player.
Then soon after, they threw their names in the 2014 PBA Draft, where they both got selected in the first round by Rain or Shine — Alas was picked second overall, while Cruz was taken ninth.
They wouldn’t be teammates for long, though. Alas was traded to Talk N Text weeks after the draft after becoming expendable following Paul Lee re-signing with the Elasto Painters in a lengthy contract dispute.
Alas went to a Tropang Texters squad led by former MVP Jimmy Alapag and Jayson Castro. There, he got to taste success right away as they won the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup crown — at the expense of Cruz and the Elasto Painters.
Cruz, though, would experience being a PBA champion the following season when he helped Rain or Shine take down Calvin Abueva and the Alaska Aces to rule the 2016 edition of the mid-season conference.
During that time, however, Alas was already with his third PBA team with NLEX, who joined the league as an expansion team in 2014. He got there following a trade in 2015 that had Troy Rosario as the focal point.
Since then, Alas has become one of the pillars of the young franchise. But as they say, fate has its ways, and just last year, he got reunited with Cruz when the latter was sent by TNT to the Road Warriors via three-team trade.
Not only did he get together again with his former Sinag teammate, but Cruz also reunited with his former coach in Rain or Shine Yeng Guiao, the one who picked both players in the 2014 draft proceedings.
Now, Alas and Cruz are seen as the leaders of this gutsy NLEX crew, along with star guard Kiefer Ravena. And as they look back on their respective journeys, both cagers are happy with how everything turned out.
“Naging okay ‘yung stock ko sa market. Na-draft ako ng Rain or Shine, ninth pick,” recalled Cruz, who has added his Guam stint in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers’ first window last February on his resume.
“I can say right now na I’m really grateful na na-experience ko ‘yun. Before PBA, ang dami kong na-experience para pagdating ko sa PBA, extra prepared na ako. So, masayang-masaya naman ako sa naging outcome,” Alas said.