STRUGGLING to get himself going in the first half against San Sebastian, Levi dela Cruz knew he had to make it up for Arellano and coach Jerry Codinera.
“Masyado akong gigil nung mga unang quarter kaya masama ang laro ko. Sabi ko bawi na lang ako pag binunot ako ni coach Jerry. Sa defense din, bawi talaga,” the sophomore guard said as he had a forgettable showing in the first two quarters.
Taking cues from his mistakes, Dela Cruz went on and settled down, doing his role as the Chiefs’ lead court general.
That’s why it wasn’t much of a surprise that with the diminutive playmaker calling the shots, Arellano slowly crawled its way back, hiking a 13-point mountain and forcing overtime at 72-all.
“Nagtiwala lang din ako sa sistema ni coach Jerry. Sinusunod ko lang yung ginagawa niya. Nagkakataon lang na pag tinatawag ko yung play na pinapagawa niya, nababalik sa akin yung bola,” he said.
Dela Cruz did finish the game with 10 points, nine assists, and five rebounds in 24 minutes of action but his performance was further underscored by his heroism in the clutch, draining the go-ahead triple with 4.5 seconds remaining in the extra period before securing the steal on the desperation inbound pass to Arjan dela Cruz to complete the 82-81 upset to deal San Sebastian the heartbreak on Friday.
As expected, Dela Cruz stepping up earned him praises from Codinera himself.
“Si Levi, he has a big heart. He’s a make-or-break kid. Talagang he doesn’t back down on an opportunity. He’s a scorer, he knows he can do it and he showed his big heart,” said the PBA great of the 5-foot-7 Davaoeño.
Dela Cruz is tasked to fill up such huge shoes with the absence of veteran Kent Salado this season, but for Codinera, he’s a different player altogether.
He doesn’t want to pressure his young guard, though, knowing that with the skillset dela Cruz has, he’s bound for big things in the future.
“Levi is a different type of player to Salado. But defensively, he’s a fundamentally sound player,” he remarked. “He’s a strong kid, malakas ang katawan, and he just has to learn a lot of things pa as a point guard, lalo na sa consistency. Pero as a second year player, nakukuha naman niya lahat yung laro niya.”