ART dela Cruz stressed there are no shortcuts to PBA stardom, saying he has to earn his minutes first at Blackwater as he makes his pro debut on Wednesday against Meralco in the Philippine Cup.
Tabbed ninth overall in this year’s draft, the rookie forward is expected to make an immediate impact for an Elite side that’s lacking in star power.
But Dela Cruz, who signed a two-year maximum contract with the Elite last Sunday, is well aware that everything is earned in the pros.
“Kailangan ko muna ipakita na deserving ako sa playing time,” the do-it-all 6-foot-4 forward said in a chat with Spin.ph on Monday after practice at the SGS gym in Quezon City. “Hindi naman kaagad na bibigyan ako ng playing time na mahaba. Every minute counts for me as a rookie.”
“Dito, i-e-earn ko yung spot ko,” the San Beda star added. “Hindi basta-basta na pasok ka dyan at magaling ka.”
But Dela Cruz is hoping he can quickly adjust to the professional style of play as he tries to move on from a recent heartbreak with the Red Lions, whose five-year NCAA championship reign came to an end after bowing to archrival Letran in a classic finals matchup that went the distance.
“When I’m inside the court, I’m trying to forget what happened,” said the Bulacan native, who attended only his second practice with the Elite on Monday. “But it’s hard off the court. Hindi mo maiwasan na maisip yung chance, yung panghihinayang.”
“Kailangan mo lang maging busy at mag-isip ng ibang bagay para makalimutan mo,” he added. “Kailangan mo mag-move on kasi maaapektuhan ang sarili mo. Hindi ka dapat mag-dwell sa situation na yun kasi sayang yung opportunity na binibigay sa’yo sa PBA.”
After all, this is what every player is dreaming of.
“Pagbubutihin ko at ibibigay ko yung best ko at kailangan ko (tanggapin) na tapos na ako sa collegiate level,” said the 23-year-old Dela Cruz, son and namesake of former pro and current Barako Bull assistant Art. “Kung ano man natutunan ko, kailangan ko i-apply dito at matuto pa sa mga veteran dito.”
Incidentally, Dela Cruz will be making his debut against a Bolts side that will also herald the arrival of its own rookie from San Beda in Baser Amer.
“Hindi ko ma-explain kasi wala akong (experience na kalaban siya),” Dela Cruz said of his longtime teammate. “Hindi ko inaasahan na mangyari yun.”
“Pero ganun talaga,” he was quick to add. “Hindi naman natin mapipili kung ano yung team natin, ‘di ba? Dugong Bedista pa rin na kahit san man mapunta, we’re still brothers. Good luck na lang sa career namin."
Expect no pleasantries, though, between the two Lions on Wednesday.
“Wala, wala (munang kaibi-kaibigan),” Dela Cruz said. “Parehong debut namin eh. kailangan namin magpakita as a role player. And he’s a fighter and alam ko ibibigay niya lahat.”