ANTIPOLO – One of the early Filipino-Americans who have made a name in the PBA, before settling down as a vital locker-room guy has finally called it a career.
Tony dela Cruz has decided to hang up his sneakers after a fruitful career of almost two decades.
The veteran Alaska forward played his last game on Wednesday night, tallying 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting, six boards, and one block without a single turnover in almost 33 minutes as a starter in the Aces 112-82 loss to Rain or Shine in the PBA Governors’ Cup.
“I’m super, super proud of the career I had,” the 39-year-old Dela Cruz said. “Obviously, I didn’t have the accolades, the trophies, the championships that I wish I had, but I got to meet some really great people, played against awesome opponents, imports, played for great coaches, and played in the best league in Asia.”
A direct hire by Shell in 1999, the 6-foot-5 Dela Cruz played the prime of his career with the defunct Turbo Chargers, before moving to Alaska where he became a steady presence for 12 seasons.
And Dela Cruz had the accolades that he played down as he gained the privilege to play for the national team in the mid-2000s, won three championships with the Aces, became a member of the 2005 mythical second team, not to mention being a Sportsmanship Award recipient.
Now, the former UC Irvine standout, the sixth oldest active player in the league at 39, is calling it a career.
“(It’s been) 17 years, eight months, two weeks, five days – but I’m not counting,” Dela Cruz insisted with smile.
Dela Cruz will miss the daily grind – mentally and physically – ahead of games, as well as the bonds he has built with his teammates.
“I’m not sad that I don’t have to go to practice anymore, cause my body can’t take it,” he said with a chuckle. “But I am sad that I can’t come to the game prepared the way I mentally prepare every gameday.”
“And the camaraderie you have with teammates,” he added. “Only someone that’s ever played will understand that and it’s different once you step away. Again, I want to enjoy the moment and show a lot of gratitude to everyone…I’m just excited that now I can step away knowing that I had a good run. Sayang we didn’t win a championship in the last couple years, but that’s the way basketball’s played.”
Ball is still life for Dela Cruz, who’s looking forward to be a commentator and eventually a head coach someday.
“I wanna be around the game,” Dela Cruz said. “Hopefully, I can coach where I can learn, then hopefully be a head coach in the PBA.”
“Obviously I have a lot to learn, to grow, but I have great teachers, teammates to help me, just super, super lucky and blessed to be part of two great organizations in Alaska and Shell.”