ART Dela Cruz’s performance in Game One of the PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals only proves that the nearly two years was worth the wait for Barangay Ginebra and head coach Tim Cone.
In his first-ever playoff game since returning from a lengthy injury, Dela Cruz was impressive, finishing with 14 points and led a second-quarter pullaway to lift the Kings to an 86-75 win over Magnolia on Saturday.
Cone said he is no longer surprised with the play of Dela Cruz, admitting that the coaching staff already had an eye on him since the 2015 draft when they were discussing on whether to pick the former San Beda cager or Scottie Thompson.
“Honestly, if you want to go back in history, we actually debated on whether to take Scottie or Art in the draft,” Cone said. “That was our two targets, Scottie or Art.”
Even though they chose Thompson, Cone said the opportunity to get Dela Cruz came when he suffered an Achilles injury for the first time with Blackwater. Despite the injury, the Kings decided to make a trade with the Elite to get Dela Cruz for Chris Ellis.
“Felt that at that point, we needed another guard that we can groom behind LA (Tenorio). We went with Scottie. But Art was very much on our mind. We like his skills. When he got injured, we knew that we can be patient and let him get healthy. We didn’t expect it will take two years.”
“We felt that the team he was coming from Blackwater, they needed players right now. Too bad Chris Ellis never really showed up and play for them. But we felt that that was the good chance to get him when he was hurt and we will try to get him back. And it worked for us.
“We had our eye on him. We were patiently trying to get him healthy. And he looks healthy out there,” said Cone.
Cone said he has been impressed with Dela Cruz’s basketball IQ that is perfect for his triangle offense system.
“He is a coach’s son. He is a PBA baby. So he knows the game. He sees the game. He has a good feel for the game," Cone said of Dela Cruz, son of former pro Art.
He has adopted his skills to be that kind of player. We always feel that those guys really work well with the triangle. He reads the game very well and the triangle is a read system. We are not surprised that he is playing like this at all. And he is going to get better and better,” added Cone.