March 27, 2014,
Somewhere in EDSA Rotonda,
A tone which signals the arrival a text message. It was coming from my aging cellphone. It catches my attention and rouses me from my sleep.
It came from high ranking sports official from the University of Santo Tomas.
This is the second time I was roused from sleep following my mother’s unexpected arrival earlier in the morning at 4 a.m.
“Fr. Rector (Herminio Dagohoy) already appointed coach Bong de la Cruz to be our men’s basketball coach,” says the message.
After breakfast with my wife and visiting members of my family was finished, done and over with, and soon as I am alone, I finally begin efforts to communicate with coach Segundo de le Cruz III.
Segundo is the name which his former high school coach Charlie Dy got me familiar with.
More than two decades ago, I was familiar with Segundo the point guard, not Bong the coach.
(Segundo “Bong” de la Cruz III in action- photo sourced from Jerome Ascano, Spin.ph ** manythanks).
But, nevertheless, coach Bong got me reacquainted with him one Sunday in January 2014 , and while while he was strutting his way around the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, where he helping out Enderun College in one of their intercollegiate sorties.
He gave his number , told me a thing or two about the coaching changes at UST, and advised me to keep in touch, coz something may go down by March.
I never forgot his advise, even though that in the back of my mind, I felt he would never be the coach of the UST Tigers.
Since then, I have been bumping into Sunday after Sunday, after Sunday, and until probably until the first Sunday of March, in the parking, in his car as he drives, and with Enderun players and their coach Pippo Noundou, if I remember.
And all throughout, he was the first to almost always initiate contact, a brief hellos, a handshake, a high five, and a goodbye, all in a span of probably a minute or two.
So, that was how easy it was for me to get in touch with Bong that morning.
He was hesitant to talk at first, saying that officials of UST have yet to talk to him.
But when I told him about the messages I have received, he opens up, finally.
He says doesn’t have much to expect from the present roster.
They are same usual guys which played last season.
In all there are Seven mainstays and two players returning from injury who are available.
And they will form the core of the UST Growling Tigers as they prepare for the 77th season of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament.
Segundo, as coach Charlie used to fondly call him whenever I watch the games of the UST Golden Nuggets (the former name of the Tiger Cubs), talks briefly about his team.
But he expressed surprise.
Like he never expected to be the head coach.
“Wala halos bago sa team. May mga babalik. As for the rookies, we are still recruiting,” said de la Cruz.
– Blast from the Past
He was a point guard during his high school and collegiate years.
But the members of his high school was stuff of legends.
Dela Cruz used to be the star point guard of the UST Golden Nuggets in high school, and his team gained quite a reputation. I feel that he was one of the best during his time, just like two other sparkplugs, Renzie Aranzaso and Aries Dimaunahan(who came a decade later).
It was a junior squad known for its tall lineup at that time.
Its tall roster even won back-to-back Palarong Pambansa secondary basketball titles during his time.
This is because he was playing alongside Marlou Aquino and EJ Feihl in high school.
In the UAAP junior basketball wars, it was tagged as a team to beat during his time because of their tall roster.
During those years in the late 90s, the late Raffy Japa encouraged me to watched lots and lots of UST Nuggets games, which I did and appreciated.
I even made big feature out of the UST Nuggets with the encouragement from Mr. Japa.
Eventually the UST Nuggets managed to land in the finals twice, and for two years in a row, only to be beaten a smarter Adamson Baby Falcons side.
Later, he joined Aquino and Feihl when they moved to Adamson in college, and played with talented forward Kenneth Duremdes.
The move by Aquino and Feihl to Adamson, along with de la Cruz was controversial, because he most of members of the UST Nuggets joined the two twin towers.
At that time, there were no residency rules which would lead to transferees sitting out for the next two years(it would take the UAAP decades before they were able to formulate the rules on such transfers).
During his time in college, injuries sidelined him for most of his playing years.
– Fast Forward
So back to the present, De la Cruz replaces longtime coach Pido Jarencio and interim mentor Ernesto “Estong” Ballesteros, who briefly handled the squad when Jarencio suddenly quit last January.
The Growling Tigers, who made it to the finals against the La Salle Green Archers the last time around, will be built around veterans Kareem Abdul, Sheak Sheriff, Aljon Mariano, Kevin Ferrer, Paolo Pe, Kim Lo, Ed Daquioag, Kent Lao and Jeepy Faundo.
Louie Vigil and San Sebastian Staglets transferee Jon Macasaet, who were sidelined by injuries last year, are being tapped to play this year, and take up posts vacated by graduates Jeric Teng, Clark Bautista and Roberto Hainga.
The Growling Tigers would most likely lie low from joining many pre-season events during the summer, according to coach Bong.
But, they will only join one pre-season event, promised Bong.
It will be the 20th Fr. Martin Summer Cup as part of their preparation for coming UAAP season.
Here, we will see how the Growling Tigers will progress under Segundo III.