AGAINST the tide of tireless recruiters seeking to secure his services, Paolo Hernandez chose to stay with Mapua and banked on familiarity.
"Familiarity ang gusto ko at alam ni coach Randy (Alcantara) kung paano ako gamitin," said the 6-foot swingman, who won the Finals MVP in the Red Robins' championship run last season.
Almost halfway done through his rookie year with the Cardinals, and the Batangueño sniper reiterated that he has no regrets choosing to stay put in Intramuros.
And for the past three games, Hernandez has shown his worth.
The 20-year-old neophyte has seemingly found his niche at Mapua, averaging 15.0 points on a 50-percent clip from deep, to go with 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 1.6 assists as the Cardinals bucked a 0-5 start to string three straight victories in the NCAA Season 95 seniors basketball tournament.
"Syempre sabi nga ni coach, saan pa ba kami pupunta, 0-5 na kami eh. Wala na kaming ibang pupuntahan kundi panalo," he said. "Talagang tinrabaho namin, sacrifices namin, sobrang hard ng training namin. Binigay lang sa amin ni Lord yung three-game win streak so sana matuloy namin."
For Alcantara, however, he's the farthest from surprised with the stretch Hernandez has gotten himself into as he sees big things in store for his rookie down the road.
"Kahit na isang taon lang siya sa juniors, nakita ko agad yung leadership niya at talagang matapang," the first-year mentor said. "He's a Finals MVP at hindi biro yung ginawa niya. So nakikita ko after (Laurenz) Victoria, magiging mukha na ng Cardinals si Paolo Hernandez.
Yet Hernandez remains humble, acknowledging that his success also lies with him playing perfect music with his teammates, most of whom have also gone through Alcantara's Red Robins program in the high school level.
"Halos lahat ng players, galing sa juniors so alam na namin yung ugali ni coach, yung system at yung coaching staff. Madali na yun sa part namin. I-adapt na lang yung maging solid yung chemistry at go hard lang lagi sa training," he said.
That's why as much as Mapua has been successful in the juniors division, Hernandez knows that being in the collegiate level is still a different beast in itself.
"Iba yung juniors sa seniors. Sabi nila sa akin, mas pursigihan ko pa from juniors to seniors. Ineencourage nila ako na kung ano ang laro ko, laruin ko lang. Kung sino ang libre, ipasa ko lang. Kung gusto kong itira, itira ko lang. The more na mag-hesitate ako, doon ako magkakamali," he said.