TOWERING Jericho De Guzman finally completed his transformation from practice player to a full-pledged Ginebra King when he played his first official PBA game with the league's most popular ballclub on Friday night in the Philippine Cup.
With the Kings totally in command against the Mahindra Floodbuster with a little less than three minutes left, wild cheers erupted from the Ginebra side of the Smart Araneta Coliseum after coach Tim Cone signaled for the 6-foot-11 rookie to enter game.
The lean crowd got even more into it when De Guzman scored his first basket as a pro at the final 2:32 mark, giving the Kings an 84-59 lead and cruised to an 89-70 win.
He later described the experience as being on ‘cloud nine.’
“Ang feeling ko di ko ma-describe. Sobrang saya ko,” he said. “Kung dati nung practice player ako, times 10 yung saya, ngayon 20 times pa dahil nakapaglaro na ako at na-score ko pa yung first pro basketball points ko.”
He also stressed the play that netted him his first ever basket in the league was not in any way set up just for the sake of him scoring.
“Hindi ko pinilit yung puntos. Kusa lang siyang dumating dahil sa galaw namin sa opensa sa sistema ni coach Tim (Cone),” said the former St. Benilde Blazer.
De Guzman served as practice player of the Kings last season and was considered part of the team that won the Governors Cup championship. He was later made by the franchise as its first pick during the regular rookie draft and signed to a contract.
He was eventually inserted in the regular 15-man roster as injured big man Greg Slaughter remained on the reserve list.
De Guzman said he was not told nor hinted about being fielded in by Cone in the Mahindra game, although he always makes it a point to be ready in case the multi-titled mentor called his number.
“Kung kailan man ako tawagin ni coach Tim, any time, kahit na last second, first second, or nasa gitna ng game, ready lang ako lagi,” said the 27-year-old native of Concepcion, Tarlac.
Playing in his first PBA game after a long wait is certainly a boost to De Guzman’s personality and confidence.
“Yung laro ko nakikita kong nag-i-improve at yung kumpiyansa ko sa sarili ko nabu-boost,” added the rookie, who credits Cone, trainer Kirk Collier, and the rest of the Ginebra coaching staff for believing in him.