Mark Cruz counts on Letran’s veteran trio to lead back-to-back bid

Last year’s Finals MVP and former Letran Knights guard Mark Cruz expects an all-out war in the NCAA basketball tournament that is set to unfold Saturday but predicts his alma mater has what it takes to defend the crown.

Now playing for the Phoenix Fuel Masters in the PBA, the 5-foot-5 Cruz called out veterans Rey Nambatac, McJour Luib, and Jom Sollano to take over and lead the Knights’ crusade to go for a back-to-back title.

“For me kayang kaya nila (mag-champion), kasi yung championship experience from last year, kailangan lang nila maisip yun,” Cruz told FOX Sports.

Cruz, together with Kevin Racal, delivered in their final playing year leading the Knights to the Promised Land after a decade of championship drought.

To mirror the feat, Cruz said the trio of Nambatac, Luib, and Sollano just had to set a good example to the new players and rise above the new challenge.

“Mas mabigat siguro dadalhin nila Nambatac, nila Luib ngayon season dahil mas maraming bago and bagong sistema sa coach nila, si coach Jeff Napa,” he said.

But ultimately, Cruz believes the new-look Letran is still a Final Four contender with a good chance to repeat as champions.

“Papasok sila ng Final 4 at kayang-kaya nila ulit kunin ang championship,” he said, while noting that San Beda, Arellano, JRU, Mapua and Perpetual Help as the teams who will be out there in the upper half of the field and try to dethrone the Knights.

Pumped up for the opener on Saturday, expect Cruz cheering for Letran in their Finals rematch showdown against archrival San Beda to mark the start of Season 92.

“Pupunta ako,” he said, “Siyempre, susuporta.” – By Jason Mercene

Follow this writer on Twitter: @JasonMercenePH