ART Dela Cruz joined Barangay Ginebra's practice for the first time in months after recovering from a serious injury.
Ginebra’s practice on Tuesday was Dela Cruz's first with the team since he ruptured an Achilles tendon last December - the same injury he suffered in March of last year during training with Gilas Pilipinas.
“One year, two months,” said Dela Cruz on Tuesday when SPIN.ph asked how long he has been away from the game.
Dela Cruz, a Blackwater draftee in 2015 who was traded to Ginebra for Chris Ellis last year, said he has been regularly attending the team’s practice but is thrilled to finally be able to join his teammates on the court.
“Excited. Hindi naman ako nawawala sa practice. Every time na nagpa-practice ‘yung Ginebra, tina-try ko panoorin kung ano ginagawa. Sinasabi ni coach, minsan big ka, minsan off or point (guard) ka. Napapanood ko naman ‘yung gagawin ko.
“’Yung pakiramdam ko lang ‘yung pag-gising mo na alam mo mag-eensayo ka na, iba ‘yung pakiramdam, parang excited ka pero ganun pa man, iniisip ko sarili ko na hindi lang ngayong araw ‘yung mahalaga. ‘Yung mahalaga ‘yung career ko at ma-prove ko na deserving ako,” said the former San Beda standout.
Ginebra coach Tim Cone is happy for Dela Cruz but made it clear the team won't rush the return of the bull-strong forward.
“It’s a big moment for him but we are not going to rush him. We evaluated for two years so another couple of weeks won’t really matter. We are just playing it, making sure there is no pain. But he looks like he is having fun and enjoying with his teammates,” said Cone.
The son of former San Miguel mainstay Art Dela Cruz is targeting a return to the court this month, saying he has been assured by Cone that he won't be rushed to action just to fill holes in the lineup left by injuries to Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, and Sol Mercado.
“Sabi lang ni coach (Cone) sa akin, no expectations. Kung kaya mo ilaro, ilaro natin pero it doesn’t mean na pipilitin, lalo na ngayon na walang player. Matagal ‘yung hinihintay natin, ano ba naman ‘yung ilang weeks na ma-fully healed ka.
"Sabi rin niya na kapag may nararamdaman ka, future ‘yung iniisip natin, hindi ‘yung ngayon, hindi ‘yung eliminations, hindi ‘yung this conference.
“Sa practice ko, masaya kasi hindi ako pinu-push ng mga teammates ko na gawin mo ‘to, hinahayaan nila na kunin ko ‘yung rhythm ko, sila LA (Tenorio), sila Scottie (Thompson), binibigyan nila ako ng confidence."
Dela Cruz expressed his gratitude to San Miguel management from top to bottom for the unwavering support during the injury layoff.
“Sabi ko nga sa sarili ko, walang team ang magiging patient sa akin na hindi kagaya ng Ginebra na nagawa nila maghintay ng ganito katagal. Sobrang thankful ako kay coach, coach Al (Chua), boss RSA (Ramon Ang),” said Dela Cruz.