HE has always stayed in the shadows of his more celebrated teammates. For once, Jovit dela Cruz felt what it’s like to be in the spotlight.
Finally living up to his potential, the 22-year-old San Sebastian skipper registered a career performance in leading the Stags to a 90-69 victory over Emilio Aguinaldo College that snapped a three-game skid in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
For so long regarded as the best player outside Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang, and Ronald Pascual in previous years, dela Cruz was primed for a breakout year this season as one of the few remaining veterans following the departure of the 'Pinatubo Trio.'
But with the entrance of impressive rookies led by Jamil Ortuoste, Brad Guinto, CJ Perez, and Leo de Vera, the Bulacan-born dela Cruz was once again left struggling as a fifth wheel.
After taking a backseat to his younger teammates, dela Cruz took center stage on Thursday when he sizzled with a career-high 25 points on top of 11 boards, five assists, and two blocks in 36 minutes.
“Mostly sa amin rookies tapos ako pa yung nag-struggle. Naging challenge yun sa akin kasi ako yung veteran, dapat ako yung mag-step up,” the versatile forward said. “Kung mag-struggle ako, paano na?”
Those all-around numbers were a far cry from still-decent norms in the first round, where he tallied 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, one steal in 33.8 minutes in first half of the season.
“He’s been there, but there’s a lot more expected from him,” Stags coach Topex Robinson said. “And I have to stick to my veterans.”
Dela Cruz was happy not to let his coach down.
“Sobrang thankful ako kasi si coach hindi nagsawang mag-motivate sa akin,” dela Cruz said. “Sinabi niya sa akin maging aggressive lang ako lagi. Naging maganda naman yung kinalabasan.
“Sana magtuloy-tuloy pa.”