Steals of the Draft: Jericho Cruz reminds Cyrus Baguio of good ‘ol days

Alaska veteran Cyrus Baguio sees his younger self in Rain or Shine sophomore guard Jericho Cruz.

But the former University of Santo Tomas star isn’t quite ready to pass the baton to the up-and-coming Adamson standout yet—not with the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup crown on the line.

“Kapag nakikita ko ‘yung bata na ‘yun naalala ko ang dating ako,” said the 6-foot-2 Baguio, 35, on the eve of Game 3, with Alaska trying to avert falling into a deep 0-3 hole against Rain or Shine in their best-of-seven titular showdown.

“Red Bull pa lang ako, ganu’n na ang laro ko,” he added, referring to his first five-and-half years in the pro league when he was drafted by the defunct Red Bull Barako, then under Yeng Guiao, at 14th overall during the 2003 rookie draft before helping them top the 2005-2006 Fiesta Conference.

Like Baguio, the 6-foot-1 Cruz, 25, was considered by many as the steal of the draft during the 2014 proceedings when he was picked by Rain or Shine at ninth overall before becoming part of the All Rookie Team.

“Masarap panoorin ang batang ‘yun,” added Baguio. “Marami pang ibubuga ‘yun sa PBA. Mag-i-improve pa ‘yun.”

Despite all his praises on Cruz, Baguio said he still means business when they square off anew on Wednesday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum, confident he and the rest of the Aces can hold their ground against the healthier and confident Elasto Painters.

“Basta iniisip pa rin namin ‘yung bukas (Wednesday). Ang daming players nilang gumagawa. Nagko-contribute halos lahat. Malalim ang bench nila so kami step up pa rin kasi maraming wala sa amin, maraming may injury. Kailangan doblehin pa namin ang effort namin,” he said.

In their head-to-head matchup, Cruz has been outplaying Baguio, coming through with game-averages of 16 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.5 steals. The Aces guard has been collecting 12.5 markers, 3.5 boards, 1.5 steals and 1.0 dime per outing.

Clearly, Baguio has his hands full against Cruz.

“Kapag ganu’n kabilis ang binabantayan mo, mapapalaban ka rin. Siyempre advantage niya mas bata siya at mas malakas ang resistensya niya,” admitted the Iligan City native.

“Pero hindi naman one-on-one defense ‘yan. Team defense pa rin. Kumbaga ‘pag nalusutan ka, may help (defense). Pero tina-try kong stop-pin kung sino ang bantay ko bukas. Aware lang ako sa magiging defensive plans namin,” he added.

Although they dropped the first two matches, including a close 103-105 decision in Game 2 last Sunday, Baguio remains optimistic about their chances.

“Positive pa rin kami. ‘Yung mga talo namin, hindi tambak. May tsansa naman manalo kami. ‘Yung Game 2, disgrasya lang talaga. Andu’n pa rin kami,” he said.

“Siguro aayusin lang namin ‘yung mga kaunting mali namin para sa next game, hindi na maulit ‘yun. Mga maliliit na bagay at mga errors namin. Bukas positive pa rin kami na makukuha ang unang panalo.” – By Jerome Lagunzad

Follow this writer on Twitter: @JLFoxSports

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