CEBU CITY – It’s always a gamble when an unknown player makes the brave trek to the Big City to play under the bright lights of the NCAA.
For Cebuano rookie Darrell Shane Menina, it took a huge leap of faith on his part to leave the comforts of Cebu and the confines of his previous school, the University of Cebu, to try his luck with the Mapua Cardinals.
Safe to say, the move has paid off as Menina and the rest of the upstart Cardinals are set to take on the Letran Knights in the Final Four of the 91st NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Tuesday.
While the pair of pro-bound guard Josan Nimes and MVP frontrunner Allwell Oraeme undoubtedly make up the engine that drove the Cardinals back up to respectability, Menina has not been a mere passenger on this ride as he has quietly become the team’s third leading scorer this season with an average of 8.8 points per game.
He also scored 16 points in the team’s 81-76 victory over the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers last week that installed the Cardinals as the third seed in the Final Four.
The youngster says that he’s just elated to have earned the trust of his teammates and his head coach, PBA great Atoy Co, after a rocky start to the season.
“I just really try to do my best to keep the coach’s trust. I want to make sure that they don’t ever regret recruiting me,” said the spunky guard, whose move from UC to Mapua right before the start of the season caused a minor uproar here in the Queen City of the South as the Webmasters were set to go to war in the Cesafi with him as the centerpiece.
Menina said the NCAA experience has been unlike any other in his young basketball career.
“It’s been a great experience so far. I’ve learned a lot especially on how to be a more mature basketball player.”
But the young buck from Talisay City also said he has also had his share of challenges, both on and off the floor.
“I struggled at first especially when it came to learning the plays because they (Mapua) had a lot, not unlike in Cebu when we were just told to pass and cut,” said Menina with an impish grin. “I also had to adjust to the personalities of my teammates.”
But after going through some growing pains, the Cardinals have taken flight with Menina helping them rise with nearly four assists per game.
“I can say that we weren’t all on the same page in the first round. But as the season wore on, I saw that we started trusting one another and the coaches more,” shared Menina of a late surge that saw Mapua win all but one of its nine games.