Small, undersized and all, Mark Cruz of the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights always played in big strides throughout his collegiate hoops career.
Since former ace point guard Kevin Alas decided to forgo his final NCAA playing year in order to devote himself into the Gilas Pilipinas program back in 2012, Cruz steadily upped his game and eventually became the Knights’ main backcourt weapon. Years have passed and now serving his final year of duty, Cruz takes the opportunity to learn the ropes of being the team’s leader and its calming presence amidst tough times.
Fielding in an undersized roster and at the same time going through another coaching change by bringing Aldin Ayo in the fold, the Knights aren’t hitting the panic button yet. What they may lack in size, they make up with their tenacity. They’re one of the teams in the league that play their hearts out everytime they hit the floor.
“Kung makikita natin undersized ang Letran team, so [kailangan] ang puso talaga [to win games],” Cruz remarked on his team’s current tough challenges. “Ako ginagamit ko talaga [ang puso] sa laro. Gusto ko ituro [as a leader] iyon sa teammates ko na kahit sinong kalaban, kahit malakas iyan, iyon lang ang pag-aralan nila.”
Staying true to their battle cry, the Knights quickly gained attention by opening their NCAA Season 91 campaign by overpowering the De La Salle College of Saint Benilde Blazers with their ravenous defense leading to an 82-53 blowout win.
In that win, Cruz racked up 16 points, 3 assists and 4 steals.
“Natutuwa lang ako sa mga teammates ko, dahil before the game kinausap ko sila at ginawa nila ang pinagusapan namin na ibigay ang effort at lahat sa loob ng court,” Cruz said about Letran’s win over CSB. “So ayon, lumabas naman lahat [ng sinabi ko].”
Letran may have gotten off to a hot start, but everything is not set in stone yet for Cruz as they are just starting to undergo in another tough grind of the NCAA season.
Cruz may be the team’s veteran presence and clear-cut leader, but he admits is that he is also in the process of picking up new things along the way which can be beneficial for him in the near future. One of those things is honing his maturity further to set a better example for his teammates.
“Last year ko na rin [sa NCAA] and gusto ko rin mag-improve as [the team’s] leader. [I want to] improve ang maturity ko kasi one of my weaknesses kasi is getting frustrated [at times],” Cruz concluded. “After nitong season, kung mabibigyan ako ng chance sa pro [leagues], madadala ko na iyon.”