EACH time he went to the charity stripe, Art dela Cruz avoided looking at his father and namesake, who sat behind the San Beda bsket to watch his son live for the first time in quite a while on Saturday in the deciding game of the NCAA Finals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“Ayaw ko nga siya tingnan eh kasi baka ma-pressure ako,” the San Beda forward said of his father, a former PBA player and now an assistant coach at Barangay Ginebra.
“I don’t want him to watch,” continued the younger Dela Cruz, the only boy among three siblings. “Nape-pressure kasi ako. Minsan kasi pag nandyan siya, yung every move mo, parang ‘Oh my God, tama ba to?’. Every game kasi kino-correct niya ako.”
“Wala na akong tamang ginawa,” the 21-year-old Dela Cruz added with a laugh.
And the second-generation cager made sure he didn’t disappoint his demanding father as he rose to the occasion in the most important game of the season.
Burying the timeliest baskets down stretch, Dela Cruz powered the Red Lions to a 60-56 victory and their fourth straight, seventh in the last eight years, and 18th championship overall.
Dela Cruz finished with a game-high 20 points, 16 rebounds, and three in a solid showing that earned him the Finals MVP honor.
“I didn’t expect this award, because it was a team effort.”
Now he knows that his father has been hard on him for his own good.
“I want to thank him kasi dun rin ako natututo. I know he’s been through a lot as a coach and player and alam mo nakikita talaga niya mga mali ko,” the son said of the father, a former San Miguel Beer standout and owner of multiple titles as a college player at San Sebastian.
Dela Cruz also expressed his gratitude to Lions coach Boyet Fernandez, who allowed his versatile 6-foot-3 ward to develop into surprisingly lethal outside shooter in such a short time.
“Kumpiyansa lang mula kay coach. Thankful ako na hindi niya ako binabawalan mag-shoot. Extra practice rin and my dad told me na tulungan ko sarili ko mag shooting.”
A mid-range shooter at best in his first two years in college — the first at Ateneo, the lefty Dela Cruz said he started to try widening his range only last month when cellar-dwelling Mapua stunned the Lions, 81-76, in their second-round encounter.
Against the Cardinals, Dela Cruz buried five triples, which turned out only two shy of league high this season set by Jose Rizal University’s Philip Paniamogan, who had seven threes in the Bombers’ 83-72 win over Mapua, incidentally, last June.
He never stopped taking three-pointers from then on, adding another trey in Game Three in the first half in a ploy that complements frontcourt partner Ola Adeogun.
“Kailangan rin talaga yun para lumabas yung bantay ko, so I can give it to Ola.”