Mark Cruz strives to earn his minutes as he savors new beginning at Phoenix
Former Letran star Mark Cruz left his mark in his final game for Star before the trade that sent him to Phoenix. Jerome Ascano

MARK Cruz insisted that he will still have to earn his playing time at Phoenix despite the pervading feeling that his transfer from Star did the rookie playmaker a favor.

After riding the bench most of his two conferences with the Hotshots, the 23-year-old former star point guard of Letran was traded last month to the Fuel Masters, where he is expected to contend for a starting spot with Josh Urbiztondo and Simon Enciso.

“Kung titingnan nila, parang ganun (nakabuti sa akin) eh, pero kailangan ko pa rin pagtrabahuhan sa practice para makuha yung minutes na yun then sa game, kailangan ko ipakita yung dapat o kailangan ko maitulong sa team,” Cruz told after practice on Friday.

“Hard work pa rin kailangan.”

[See Cruz sad to leave Star, but looks forward to more opportunities at Phoenix]

Cruz, the Hotshots’ third-round pick in last year’s draft, admitted he had an inkling he would get traded despite proving his worth in the latter part of the Commissioner’s Cup.

“May feeling na ako (na mate-trade), kasi sa Star, halos lahat ‘dun, star talaga, so na-feel ko na parang hindi ako ‘belong’ ‘dun eh,” the former Letran star admitted. “I tried naman my best kung ano yung iutos ng coaches. Dumating lang talaga sa point na na-trade.”

That despite the 5-foot-5 standing tall in the Hotshots’ last game of the elimination round where he scattered 18 points in 22 minutes to help his shorthanded team book the last ticket to the playoffs.

“Hindi ko naman sinasabi na I don’t belong, pero siguro yung last game ko na yun, syempre dahil din yun kay coach Jason (Webb),” Cruz said. “ Binigyan niya ako ng opportunity then ginrab ko lang yung opportunity na yun and ginamit ko yun para maipakita kung ano ang pwede ko mapakita sa kanila.”

“Baka may mas iba silang direction or plan para sa team to get stronger,” he added.

Now, the 2015 NCAA Finals MVP now feels at home with Fuel Masters squad, led by new coach Ariel Vanguardia.

“Masaya ako dahil sobrang mababait sila coach, teammates,” Cruz said. “Yung respect (mula sa kanila) nandun pa rin kahit rookie ka.”

“Medyo may adjustments lang kasi syempre new system at new coach, pero we’re doing our best para mapunta kami dun,” he added, although he believes he fits perfectly into Vanguardia’s high-octane offense.

“Oo naman (gusto ko ‘to) dahil yung system namin ngayon, parang fit naman, tapos yung defense, more on pressure, so I’m used to it parang sa Letran days,” he beamed. “I hope na mag-fit ako.”


Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos