Jun 11, 2018

Itch to play still there, but teaching young Aces tops Tony's priorities

TONY dela Cruz considers the two championships he won with Alaska as the crowning glory of his long 18-year PBA career.

While he was part of the Aces' three title runs, the 2010 and 2013 were the most memorable for him.

"The biggest thing with Alaska was the 2013 championship and 2010 when I had sore eyes and Alaska closed it out (series)," said Dela Cruz of his two biggest moments with the proud franchise.

The 2010 championship (Fiesta Cup) was won at the expense of San Miguel Beer in six games, while the 2013 crown (Commissioner's Cup) was clinched via a three-game sweep of Barangay Ginebra in what proved to be Dela Cruz's last title hurrah.

The 39-year-old forward, tapped by Shell as its Fil-Am direct hire in 1999, was in a throwback mood Sunday after he was given tribute by Alaska at halftime of the team's Commissioner's Cup game against Magnolia Pambansang Manok at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

No less than team owner Wilfred S. Uytengsu graced the short special tribute for Dela Cruz, now a part of the team's coaching staff after officially retiring as a player last season.

A corresponding tribute was shown during the program with former Shell team governor Bobby Kanapi and Turbo Chargers Rob Wainwright, Chris Jackson, and Rich Alvarez taking time to give short messages to the former UC Irvine alum.

Dela Cruz extended his profound appreciation to all the support Uytengsu has given him from the time he arrived at Alaska in 2005 via a trade until now.

"I'll always be grateful for the support Fred Uytengsu has given me. I can't say enough thank yous for everything," he said.

A four-time All-Star and a member of the league's second Mythical Team, Dela Cruz was the 2006 recipient of the PBA's Sportsmanship Award, a recognition that fittingly defines his career as he was only called for a flagrant foul just once during his playing years.

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The infraction, recalled Dela Cruz, was a landing spot foul against Sta. Lucia big man Dennis Espino.

"I went into the Commissioner's Office and was told 'we're not judging you as a person, just the action,' which I think was fair," he said. "I apologized to Dennis, there was no harm, but again, maybe I wished I would've gotten a couple more technical (fouls) to like feel some of my frustration, but just super proud that I can look back at my career and really, really be happy."

While the itch to play again would be there for him from time to time, Dela Cruz stressed teaching the younger Aces is now his priority as part of coach Alex Compton's deputies.

"I think the biggest transition is being in shape. I do want to get out there and play with the guys sometimes. But I think the biggest transition for me is wanting to be knowledgeable, but at the same time, curious about how to get better at basketball."

For Compton, Alaska players could learn a thing or two from dela Cruz.

"He's smart, work ethic guy, he's a technique guy, and for someone who plays as long as he did, he's a wonderful model for our guys," said the Alaska coach. (RG)