MANILA, Philippines — With NCR+ reverted to GCQ starting today, NLEX coach Yeng Guiao said the Road Warriors will restart practice at the UP gym on Tuesday and Guam national player Jericho Cruz is expected to join after he completes hotel quarantine. Cruz is booked to return from the US tomorrow after a two-week training stint with the Chamorros at the Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California.
Cruz, 30, said “that would be nice (and) it’s good to know” that he has been allowed by NLEX to play for Guam in the FIBA Asia Cup third qualifying window at Clark on June 16-20. Guiao yesterday confirmed the clearance in a text message. It’s possible that the PBA’s 46th season will start in the middle of next month, creating a conflict in schedule with the FIBA qualifiers but Cruz will be permitted to play for Guam which has a chance to make history by advancing to its first-ever FIBA Asia Cup.
“I’ll be back in Manila alone (tomorrow),” said Cruz. “To be honest, I think we have a great chance of beating Hong Kong. We just gotta be ready. I don’t know when the Guam team is coming over. All I know is that I’m focusing on NLEX right now.”
Cruz said training in L. A. was smooth particularly as Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy helped out. Leading scorer 6-6 Earnest Ross and 6-10 Jonathan Galloway, however, skipped the camp. Ross is in Australia and Galloway, in Switzerland, both playing as imports. “Training went really well,” he said. “Tai Wesley and Curtis Washington were with us in L. A. We’ll be in Clark ready to battle Hong Kong. Our head coach is E. J. Calvo who reached out to coach Phil since he’s been to Guam to do basketball camps. I met (Dennis) Schroder in the gym, he’s looking good and being coached by the same trainers as us. I learned a lot from coach Phil, taking in all the lessons. Overall, it was a great experience for me.” Schroder is a 6-3 guard and a German national player with the Lakers. While in L. A., Cruz watched the Lakers play New York at the Staples Center. The Lakers won, 101-99, in OT.
Guam is in Group C with Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers. Australia and New Zealand are tied with 2-1 records but the Boomers own a superior +82 factor while the Tall Blacks are even at 0. Guam is 0-1 at -19 and Hong Kong, 0-1 at -63. Guam and Hong Kong will play twice in Clark on June 16 and 18. If Guam wins both games, it will tie Australia and New Zealand at 2-1. Since Australia and New Zealand are done with the qualifiers, Guam can eclipse New Zealand’s quotient if it beats Hong Kong by a cumulative margin of over 19. The top two of the group will advance to the FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta on Aug. 16-28. The third placer will play off in a six-team tournament in Jakarta on Aug. 12-14 with four qualifying tickets at stake. So even if Guam fails to overtake New Zealand in the standings, it still has a chance to play in the FIBA Asia Cup with a third place finish.
Cruz has suited up only once for Guam, compiling four points, four rebounds and five assists in 28.3 minutes in a 113-94 loss to New Zealand in February last year. Guam raced to a 5-0 record, beating Indonesia, 65-53 and Thailand, 91-70 in the Eastern Region pre-qualifiers before losing to New Zealand in the main qualifying draw.