HE knows he is largely unknown in coaching circles and admits he has big shoes to fill.
But newly-appointed University of Santo Tomas head coach Segundo 'Bong' Dela Cruz has embraced the challenge as he takes over the reins of one of college basketball's most high-profile teams.
“Siyempre, biggest challenge na ito. Napakataas na liga na ito. Lahat ng tao, nakatingin diyan,” said the 42-year-old as he confirmed a Spin.ph story that he had already been appointed to replace Pido Jarencio as UST coach.
Dela Cruz, one of the assistants of Jarencio at UST before he moved to GlobalPort in the PBA, said he is aware a lot of eyebrows were raised when he was selected over other candidates like Gerald Francisco and another former Jarencio assistant, Estong Ballesteros.
There were also questions on whether Dela Cruz has what it takes to mirror what Jarencio has accomplished at UST—a 2006 UAAP title and two runner-up finishes.
But Dela Cruz said he understands the doubts.
“Ang hirap talaga! ‘Yung sinasabi mong big shoes to fill, maraming magtatanong na, ‘Bakit ako?’ ‘Sino ba ‘yan?’, ‘Saan galing ‘yan?’ ‘Yun agad,” said Dela Cruz.
Dela Cruz, however, is grateful that there are also people who believe in him, especially the UST higher-ups.
“Gusto ko ngang magpasalamat kay coach Pido dahil kinuha niya akong assistant, at sa UST management sa pagtitiwala nila sa akin dahil hindi ko akalain na i-coconsider nila ako,” said Dela Cruz.
A former UST juniors star who played for Adamson in college in the early 1990s, Dela Cruz also suited up in the Philippine Basketball League and the Metropolitan Basketball Association during his heyday.
After his playing days, Dela Cruz became a coach in the PBL and the regional-based National Basketball Conference as well as in other smaller collegiate leagues.
Dela Cruz recognized it will be hard to fill the shoes of Jarencio but remained optimistic that UST remains a Final Four contender in the UAAP despite the departure of key players Jeric Teng and Clark Bautista.
“Talagang mahirap palitan si coach Pido. Walang makakapalit sa kanya dahil legend na ‘yan sa UST. Kaya gagawin ko dito from the start is hardwork talaga kami,” Dela Cruz added.
The new UST coach said the Tigers remain formidable with the core of Kevin Ferrer, Karim Abdul, and Aljon Mariano despite the transition the team will be undertaking in the next few months.
“Siyempre, may winning tradition. Ang assessment ko, malakas pa naman ‘yung team basta maging complete lang kami. Ngayon, inaayos pa rin namin ‘yung team at ‘yung system. Nandyan pa rin naman ‘yung system ni coach Pido. ‘Yung adjustment, hindi naman overnight ‘yan. Magkakaroon talaga ng transition,” said Dela Cruz.
“Hopefully, maging mabilis ‘yung pick-up para gumanda ang takbo ng team,” he added.
With his present squad, Dela Cruz said he is aiming high.
“Mataas na ‘yung narating ng team. Ano pa ba ang ibang mararating namin? Siyempre isang step na lang ‘yung championship,” he added.