Former UST guard Levi Dela Cruz proves an unlikely hero for rejuvenated Chiefs
Levi Dela Cruz led the Chiefs' rally against the Blazers. Dante Peralta

AFTER Jio Jalalon and Kent Salado, another point guard from Arellano showed he’s ready to follow in their footsteps.

Levi Dela Cruz became the unlikely hero as he scored 24 points to lead the Chiefs past the College of Saint Benilde Blazers, 87-81, in the NCAA Season 93 men’s basketball tournament on Friday at the San Juan at the FilOil Flying V Center.

The Arellano rookie, though, deflected credit for his breakout game.

“Masaya po ako. Nagpapasalamat din po ako sa Panginoon kasi ayun nga nagbunga yung mga pinaghirapan namin sa training. Kasi lagi kaming talo so ayun sinunod lang namin yung kung ano yung sistema na ginagawa namin sa training tapos dinagdagan pa po namin ng effort,” he said.

After playing in the UAAP Season 77 for the University of Santo Tomas, Dela Cruz suffered an ACL injury which forced him to go home to Davao in 2015 to recover. 

However, opportunity knocked once again for the 5-foot-7 guard the following year after Arellano assistant coach Alvin Grey, who is a former assistant coach at UST, invited him to try out for the Chiefs.

“Okay naman po 'yung adjustment ko sa Arellano kasi running team po sila, which is yung nakasanayan ko kasi takbuhan nga. Transition game sila puro takbuhan kaya nag-fit naman ako sa system nila,” said Dela Cruz.

[See Chiefs rally from 16-points down against Blazers to end four-game slump]

The 22-year-old Davao native admitted that he looks up to his senior teammate Salado and hopes to complement him inside the court.

“Si Kent kasi talagang role model ko din siya, kumbaga hinahangaan ko siya kasi siya yung mas senior sa akin. Lagi ko lang din sinasabi sa sarili ko na work hard lang kasi nga grabe yung tiwala na binigay ni Coach Jerry (Codinera) sa akin. Sabi niya tulungan ko nga daw si Salado,” he shared.

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Asides from offense, Dela Cruz aims to play his role well on defense and did just that against the Blazers as he also delivered three rebounds, four assists and one block.

“Backcourt pressure talaga tsaka yung defense talaga hinahanap sa akin kasi yung offense darating naman talaga yun. Hindi ko naman talaga masyado minamadali pero kanina kinapalan ko lang talaga mukha ko kasi nga lagi naman kasi ako nag-eextra,” he said.

Despite Arellano being mired in eighth spot, Dela Cruz said the Chiefs are still confident of turning things around with still a lot of games left to play.

“Positive lang naman kaming mga teammates ko lalo na po si Coach Jerry (Codinera). Lagi niya po kaming ineencourage na ‘wag madown at ‘wag magpadala sa mga talo. Basta sabi niya lagi lang positive then dasal lang po talaga,” he said. 

Follow the writer on Twitter: @chelseiajeanne