By Jerome LagunzadWith versatile big man Joe Devance expected to miss a big chunk of Barangay Ginebra’s title campaign in the Philippine Cup as he recuperates from a foot surgery, comebacking Art Dela Cruz is expected to be thrown into the fire in earnest by Gin Kings coach Tim Cone.
The lefty 6-foot-4 forward, acquired in a four-player trade with Blackwater in the Governors Cup last August, is confident he can fill up the slack with the help of his teammates until JDV returns by February.
“Malaking pressure ‘yun for me. But I’m motivated because my teammates are giving me the confidence. They’re allowing me to play my game. Pinapakita talaga nila na welcome rin ako,” said Dela Cruz, 25, who was acquired by Ginebra in a four-player trade with Blackwater last August.
Although he was just a mere spectator during the Gin Kings’ title repeat in the Governors Cup last month, the former San Beda standout felt he’s already been embraced not only by their loyal fans but also the team’s heralded veterans.
“I know I didn’t play last conference, but I already felt right at home,” he said. “Akala ko sila Kuya Mark (Caguioa) and Kuya LA (Tenorio), hindi mo maaabot. Pero very approachable sila at tinutuungan nila ako makuha agad ‘yung plays. They have proven a lot in the league and I’m thankful to have a chance learning from them.”
Dela Cruz added he’s also thrilled to be rewarded by Ginebra team management a fresh two-year deal as he continues to make a steady recovery from a raptured Achilles tendon he suffered during Gilas Pilipinas 5.0 training camp last March.
Repaying every peso of what he described as a “good amount” of contract is Dela Cruz’s immediate goal.
“Sobrang saya kasi madalang lang sa player ang mabigyan ng ganung tiwala. Hindi rin naman basta basta ang team na ‘to. Good amount rin naman kaya hindi na ako nagdalawang isip na pirmahan ‘yun,” he said.
More than having a financial stability, the proud San Miguel, Bulacan native is looking forward learning more from Cone, 59, the pro league’s winningest coach with 20 titles tucked under his belt, including a pair of Grand Slam feats.
“Proven winner na naman si coach Tim. Every pratice natututo ka. Para kang nasa classroom,” he said. “It’s been like that for the last couple of months. Akala ko noon good enough na ako. Pero sa binibigay na confidence sa akin ni coach, lalawak pa ang pananaw ko sa basketball.”
As per their ardent fans’ reaction upon his arrival, Dela Cruz said: “Sobrang na-culture shock. First few days ko pa lang dito sa Ginebra, maski ‘yung mga supporters namin, mainit na agad ang pagtanggap sa akin. Inaabangan ka na nila after every practice.”