FORMER Far Eastern University stalwart Carl Bryan Cruz vowed to be all business in his quest to capture an elusive title, even at the expense of his former Tamaraw teammates as his CafeFrance team goes up against the FEU-backed Phoenix Petroluem in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup finals.
The 25-year-old Cruz, who played five years for FEU in the UAAP, bared it is hard for him to face his former teammates who now form the core of the Accelerators in the developmental league. But he remains dead set on getting his first-ever championship in his amateur career.
“Mga ka-brothers ko sila,” Cruz told SPIN.ph on Wednesday on the eve of Game One of the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup finals. “Siyempre, mahirap din kasi grabe ‘yung samahan namin."
“Pero siyempre, finals na ‘to,” he added. “Wala munang kuya kuya, wala munang magkakilala. Wala munang kulitan.”
Cruz actually started playing for CafeFrance last year, after he finished up his college eligibility with FEU in 2015. But after suffering an ACL tear in his left knee, he was relegated to the reserve list while the Bakers celebrated their first-ever PBA D-League title by beating Hapee in the Foundation Cup finals.
Months after the Bakers won the D-League title, it was Cruz’s former school to cop the glory, when the Tamaraws beat University of Santo Tomas in three games to capture the UAAP Season 78 title, ending a decade-long championship drought.
“Three finals appearance ako kaya lang, hindi nag-champion. Nung nag-graduate ako, dun bigla nag-champion,” said Cruz with a smile.
Cruz said he remained close to his former teammates at FEU, even after a failed championship bid against NU in his final year in the UAAP.
“Halos lahat, ka-close ko. Solid kasi ‘yung lineup namin na ‘yun,” said Cruz. “Pero trabaho muna.”
For this finals series against Phoenix Petroleum, Cruz likes the chances of the Bakers to go back-to-back thanks to their talented mix and chemistry between the core players from Centro Escolar University and the non-CEU players.
“Maganda ‘yung tinatakbo ng team namin. Halos lahat galing sa CEU. Ilan lang kaming galing sa labas. Pero maganda ‘yung samahan kasi kung pagpasok namin, kami ‘yung nag-adjust. Nasama na kami sa samahan nila. Dahil sa samahan namin, gumaganda ‘yung laro ko,” Cruz said.
Cruz also aims to prove that he can be a significant part of a championship-winning team. Even though the Bakers captured the Foundation Cup title last year, he also felt a sense of disappointment not being able to help his teammates in their run at the title.
This conference, though, Cruz is bent on making up for lost time as he's in fourth place in the MVP race for the Aspirants Cup at the end of the elimination round. A D-League title, he said, will only complete the resurgence of his basketball career.
“Thankful din ako na maganda ‘yung pagbalik ko. Halos nawala ako ng one year dahil sa ACL. Gusto ko i-prove na kaya kong mag-champion. Diba sa FEU, ilang beses kami nag-finals tapos dito sa CafeFrance, mahirap din matanggap na nag-champion sila pero wala akong na-contribute this conference. Gusto ko i-prove sa akin at sa ibang tao na kaya ko,” said Cruz
Cruz, though, added that all his accomplishments were only possible because of FEU. He remains grateful that the school took a chance on him as a walk-in in 2008, despite starting out late in the sport and having played competitive basketball when he was already in fourth-year high school at little-known Metro Manila College in Novaliches.
“Malaki talaga (ang utang na loob ko sa FEU). Doon ako nagsimula. Doon ako nakilala. Kung hindi dahil sa kanila, hindi ako aabot sa narating ko ngayon,” said Cruz.