MARK Cruz may not hold a candle at the moment to older brother Marvin, but he at least holds the bragging rights over the pro guard as far as their college careers are concerned.
The younger Cruz is playing in a college basketball finals.
“Mas suwerte lang siguro ako sa kanya,” said Cruz, the diminutive starting guard who quarterbacked a Letran team to a dream appearance in the NCAA finals opposite San Beda. “Hindi ko masasabi na mas hard worker ako sa kanya. Pana-panahon lang naman yan.”
Comparisons have been inevitable between the Letran guard and his more celebrated brother, who had a successful college career before suiting up for Air21, Coca-Cola, and Barako Bull in the PBA as well as for the Bangkok Cobras in the Asean Basketball League.
But in only his sophomore year with the Knights, Mark has already done something that Marvin never came close to achieving in five years with the University of the Philippines Maroons. Marvin won a juniors championship for UP but the Maroons did not even reach the UAAP Final Four during his stay with the team.
It was Mark's vastly improved play, in fact, that had been one of the biggest reasons for the Knights' revival from a team mired in eighth place at one point during the eliminations to a league finalist.
At 5-5 the smallest player in the league, Cruz averaged 20 points in the two games against a twice-to-beat San Sebastian team in the Final Four to lead the Knights to their first finals appearance in five years.
However, the 20-year-old was quick to dismiss claims that those two games prove that he is better than his brother.
“Mas magaling pa rin siya sa akin, siguro lamang lang ako sa puso,” Cruz said.
The younger Cruz’s fighting heart will be tested anew on Thursday when the Knights and Red Lions open their best-of-three title series at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“Hinahanda ko na sarili ko na ma-bunggo ng mga big men,” said Cruz, who will be facing a San Beda side bannered by the most imposing frontline in the league today led by 6-foot-7 Ola Adeogun, 6-foot-6 Kyle Pascual, 6-foot-3 Jake Pascual, and 6-foot-3 Arthur dela Cruz.
Despite the Knights being the underdogs, Cruz admitted not feeling any immense pressure on his part.
“Gusto ko i-treat it as a normal game.”