Mark Cruz: In the land of the giants
Matthew Olivares (The Philippine Star) - June 2, 2014 - 3:43pm

It must be daunting to have giants looming over you during a basketball game who are ready to swat away errant shots, sky for rebounds, or suspend themselves in the air for jump shots.

For Letran’s Mark Cruz, the size of his opponents don’t matter because his confidence dwarfs the size intimidation into almost nothing.

Compared to almost everyone on the court, Mark is height-challenged to be politically correct about things. Since Cruz came up from Letran’s juniors squad, opponents have learned not to underestimate him as he is adept at hitting open shots or lofting floaters over stratospheric foes. There’s his speed that is blindingly fast that allows him to blitz past his guards en route to a fastbreak layup. And there’s the matter of his toughness. The boxing term “pound-for-pound” comes to mind. He’ll drive into the lane, get knocked around but he’ll make the basket for an and-one that’ll leave everyone shaking their heads. How’d he do that?

Even on defense, he’s even peskier. He’ll fight through screens, sky for rebounds, and if need be, push to gain an edge on opponents. Scrapper, is the right word.

Oh, have we mentioned the word “clutch”?

On a Letran team playing without beanpole center Raymond Almazan (who was league MVP last season) who has taken his game to the pros, Mark Cruz, the small man is now the big man.

When asked about how he deals with the height difference, Mark says that it’s a matter of finding the confidence to persevere and go against the odds. “Kung iisipin mo na hindi mo kaya dahil mas matangkad ‘yung mga nasa harap mo, talagang walang mangyayari,” he said. “Sa simula pa lang, kailangan sabihin mo sa sarili mo na kaya mo, at maniwala ka sa sinasabi mo.”

“Pero, siyempre naman hindi ka dapat overconfident. Tamang timpla lang,” he added. He stressed that when you have realized that you’ve defied the supposed disadvantages that you have, the more you’ll have confidence in yourself that you can do more.

For two years in a row, Letran lost in the NCAA Finals to San Beda. Within those two years, they’ve lost a great coach and some great players, leaving Mark to captain the team. Despite the pain of the finals losses, it hasn’t taken a toll in his performance and his chemistry with his teammates this pre-season. All the more it was strengthened. “Masakit sa simula,” he said. “Ilang taon ka nageensayo pero matatalo ka, pero ganun talaga. Mahirap bumangon pero kailangan mong bumangon. Hindi dahil talo ka dalawang beses, hindi ka na mananalo.”

Mark is in his final year as an Operations Management student and hopes to start a business that caters to the trends of the future. The confidence that he has learned in all his years playing basketball is something that he hopes will carryover when he becomes a businessman. And he’s not worried. After all, all his athletic life, he’s had to compete in the land of the giants.

He’ll just have to play it smart against the bigger companies in his way.

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