MARK Cruz remembers the day when he was picked by Star in the third round of the last PBA Rookie Draft as one of the happiest of his life.
“Sobrang saya ko 'nun, kasi isa ang Purefoods sa mga paborito ko,” said the former Letran star. "'Yun ang childhood team ko."
Little did the 'Antman' know that his stay with Hotshots will only last eight months and two conferences. On Tuesday, he was shipped to league newcomer Phoenix after a series of trades that saw Star bring in RR Garcia, Keith Jensen, and Rodney Brondial.
So how did he accept the trade?
“Syempre, mabigat rin sa loob ko. Kasi gusto ko sana dito na lang ako sa Star mag-stay, kaso ganun talaga ang buhay namin as player,” said the pint-sized but big-hearted guard.
The sentiment of Star fans who ranted against the trade on social media made parting harder for Cruz.
“Mas nalungkot nga ako nung nakita ko yung comments ng mga fans, mine-message nila ako at sinasabi na sobra nga raw sila nasaktan sa nangyari. Sinasabi ko naman na, ‘Ako rin, mas nasasaktan, ayaw ko sana kayo iwan,'” he said.
“But I had to explain to them na hindi yung gusto mo ang masusunod eh, you have to go with the flow and try to convert your frustration into motivation,” added the 23-year-old Operations Management student.
“Sobrang overwhelming at solid ng pagmamahal ng Star fans sa players nila kaya nakadagdag rin 'yun sa bigat ng pag-alis sa kanila,” he added.
But in every dark cloud, Cruz said he’d rather look at the silver lining.
For so long buried in a loaded Star backcourt that included Mark Barroca, Justin Melton and Alex Mallari, the 5-6 court general is looking forward to more exposure under Phoenix coach Koy Banal.
“'Yun na lang inisip ko na siguro, mas makakaganda for me dahil mas magkakaroon ako ng maayos na playing time sa Phoenix. Saka knowing coach Koy (Banal), magaling din siya mag-motivate ng players niya,” said Cruz.
“Atleast dito sa Phoenix, pagtrabahuhan ko lang talaga (yung playing time), mabibigyan ako ng break na siguro mahihirapan akong makuha sa Star lalo’t ang daming mas mga nauna sa akin (sa pwesto),” he added.
Cruz is also heartened by the fact that he was able to prove himself with the Hotshots before his departure, recalling his 15-point fourth-quarter performance in an 86-73 win over Mahindra that enabled Star to seal a place in the PBA Commissioner's Cup playoffs.
Consider it Cruz's parting gift.
“Masaya ako na kahit papaano may naiwan akong magandang game sa Star at hindi ko pinahiya yung support ng fans dun,” he said with a smile.
It also helped that Cruz has a family that helped him see the positives of the move from Star to Phoenix, including older brother Marvin - a former PBA player - and dad Ramiro, an overseas worker based in Hong Kong.
“Sa amin ng family ko, mas nakikita namin na okay na opportunity ito para kay Mark. Kasi he’ll get the exposure he needs,” said Marvin, a former star point guard of the UP Maroons in the UAAP.
"Kahit daddy ko, yan sinasabi sa kanya. Mainam nga rin kasi before umalis si tatay for Hong Kong sa Sunday, napayuhan rin siya.
“Kaya nga nung na-trade siya, nakita namin yung lungkot niya. Yan agad na-explain namin sa kanya and he looks very motivated and pumped up,” he said.
Marvin, who played six seasons in the PBA with Air21, Coke, Barako Bull and GlobalPort, also used his experience in the PBA as an example to boost the morale of his brother.
“Ipinaliwanag ko sa kanya, hindi mas maganda 'yan kasi hindi lang naman basta kontrata ang mahalaga sa player, dapat may playing time siya para maipakita niya kakayahan niya,” he said.
“Tulad ko, may kontrata nga ako dati sa PBA, wala naman akong playing time. Mabilis akong nawalan ng pwesto, unlike kung nakalaro sana ako kahit papano may bargaining chip ako sa pag-renew,” said Marvin.
Cruz said he draws confidence from his parents, who he considers as his inspiration.
And now that Garcia has left Phoenix, Mark was asked if he is ready to fill the shoes of the fast-rising guard.
“Iba 'yung RR Garcia eh, mahirap punan ang spot na iiwan niya pero ako gagawin ko naman lahat makakaya ko para kahit maka-score lang ako ng two points, magbigay naman ako ng value para lumaban ang team kada game,” he said.