ANTIPOLO CITY - All the hard work he's been putting in practice is finally paying off for Ginebra back-up winger Aljon Mariano.
The rookie player finally earned his first start for Barangay Ginebra when coach Tim Cone tasked him along with fellow freshman Scottie Thompson to man the backcourt in the Kings' PBA Governors Cup game against Phoenix on Wednesday night at the Ynares Center here.
Mariano didn't produce spectacular numbers, but had a solid outing in the Gin Kings' 96-87 victory.
The product of University of Santo Tomas said he wasn't surprised when Cone inserted him in the starting unit, having been advised beforehand by the Ginebra coach that he'll play side by side with Thompson in an all-rookie starting backcourt for the Kings.
He's more than glad, though, to repay the trust being given him by Cone, who personally picked him as the team's second round choice in last year's rookie draft.
"As a rookie, binibigyan niya ako ng time. So kailangan ko lang ibalik yung trust na binibigay niya sa akin," said Mariano, who finished with six points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from the field, and added three rebounds, and two assists in the Kings' eighth win in 10 outings.
Mariano was also mentioned by Cone in his post-game interview, saying the rookie has "just been killing it in practice and that he deserves to start."
"It's rather unsual for me. I don't usually play rookies in the starting lineup, but Scottie has been Scottie and Aljon has earned the right," said Cone of his two young, rising players.
Mariano is grateful for the confidence being shown to him by Cone that from the team practice itself, he's been challenging himself to do his best especially on the defensive end.
"Kasi sa practice naman talaga nagsisimula ang lahat e," he stressed.