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    Mark Cruz thankful for one-conference Star deal, draws confidence from mentor Abarrientos

    Nov 5, 2015

    MARK Cruz doesn’t mind getting a short-term contract with Star, stressing that reaching the PBA is already a huge blessing in itself.

    While fellow heralded rookies secured longer contract deals, the Letran star, who led the Knights to this year’s NCAA title, signed a one-conference contract with the Hotshots.

    “May mga nababasa ako na bakit daw one conference lang, But for me, I’m so blessed na nakuha ko yun kasi hindi naman lahat nabibigyan ng chance na ganun,” Cruz said after practice on Thursday.

    “Never ko inisip (na sana mas mahaba yung contract na binigay),” he added. “Basta ako, kung ano binigay sa akin, tanggap ko. Sobrang thankful ako kay God.”

    But the reigning NCAA Finals MVP admitted using it as a motivation to showcase his skills and nurture a long career in basketball’s biggest stage here.

    “Mas ma-cha-challenge talaga ako,” the 23-year-old Cruz said. “Kailangan ko na lang talaga ipakita 'yung the way I played in the NCAA. But alam naman natin na different na dito.”

    “Nandyan naman sila coach Johnny (Abarrientos) and Mark (Barroca) na nagbibigay sa akin ng lakas ng loob at kumpiyansa na kung nagawa ko daw sa NCAA, kaya ko ko rin gawin dito yan,” the 5-foot-5 playmaker added.

    The 5-foot-7 Abarrientos, one of the best small men to play in the league, has encouraged Cruz to work on his defense as opponents are expected to exploit mismatches against him.

    “He needs to prove na mapopostehan siya, pero hindi ganun kadali,” the former league MVP said. “Yun lang naman ang problema ng small man eh.”

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    “Pero sa ibang aspeto, wala naman siyang problema,” he was quick to add. “Magaling siya mag-decide, especially sa transition, ang galing niya gumamit ng pick and roll. Feeling ko, hinog na hinog na siya mag-pro. Ang question lang, kung gaano siya makakapag-adjust sa (defense).”

    Abarrientos cited other several pint-sized point guards who thrived in the pros.

    “Maraming maliliit na nakaka-survive sa PBA, depende na lang how badly you want to be a defensive player pag dating mo sa PBA,” said the cage great, who played 17 years in the pros.

    “Pero tingin ko malakas yung katawan nung bata eh, kaya my feeling is makaka-survive din siya.”

    Hotshots coach Jason Webb, though, admitted he has yet to activate Cruz, who only attended his third practice on Thursday, and is giving him another “week or two before we think he should be ready.”

    “We’re not rushing him,” the rookie mentor said.

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