San Miguel Beer guard Jericho Cruz had come full circle after finally winning a title with head coach Leo Austria who discovered and introduced him to the bright lights of collegiate basketball back in his playing days with Adamson in the UAAP.

Photo from PBA

Cruz spent two years with Austria at the Falcons’ nest but their partnership never bore fruit as Adamson struggled to reach the Final Four in Seasons 75 and 76. Cruz then joined the PBA draft the next year and played for eight more years before getting reunited with his college coach with the Beermen – and eventually winning their first title together.

“Medyo nag-usap nga kami kanina sa loob, siyempre medyo may kaunting teary eyes, kaunting iyakan pero siyempre ‘yon ‘yung pinakabest moment ko kasi siya ‘yung kumuha sa’kin eh,” said Cruz recalling a moment with the multi-titled mentor after SMB dethroned TNT with a 119-97 Game 7 victory on Sunday, Sept. 4.

“Nakilala ako sa college through him. So ‘yon ‘yung naaappreciate ko talaga kay Coach Leo. Kaya talagang game 7, talagang sabi ko kahit gamitin niya ako o hindi, basta I’ll give my best how to help my team. ‘Yon nga ‘yung mga beterano namin, nagstep up so sobrang saya, sobrang saya,” he added.

The title made it sweeter as Cruz helped Austria capture his ninth title and his first in three years while also winning his own first all-Filipino title in the league.

“Sobrang sarap kasi ito ‘yung all Filipino eh, ito ‘yung lahat kami as a player eh ito ‘yung hinahangad namin na magchampion especially all Filipino walang imports. Ito ata ‘yung conference ‘pag nag-champion ka, may ring ka ‘di’ba? So, sobrang sobrang thankful ako, sobrang thankful ako na nanalo kami ngayon,” he added.

Cruz emerged as a solid two-way player for Austria off the bench, doing a little bit of everything from playmaking, scoring and even defending against TNT’s best scorers in Jayson Castro and RR Pogoy.

For the veteran guard, the title also served as a means to silence his doubters following his decision to not re-sign with NLEX and join the already stacked SMB as he made sure to put his best foot forward everytime his number was called by Austria.

“ I had to bring my A-game every game kasi alam ko namang coming to San Miguel daming mangbabash sa akin. Bakit nandito daw ako, hindi nila ako kailangan. Mga ganon. So ‘yon ‘yung nag-fuel sa akin eh through the whole season. Kaya every game talagang I have to bring my A game,” he added.

Source: Manila Bulletin (