Racal, Cruz say the PBA can wait

PRO-BOUND Kevin Racal and Mark Cruz of the league-leading Letran Knights are simply not thinking about their coming stint in the Philippine Basketball Association.

It will be a dream come true for Racal when he joins the Alaska Aces who selected him in the first round. Ditto with Cruz and the Star Hotshots.

But with the Knights leading the standings in season 91 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament, signing up for the teams that took them in the rookie draft is not their priority at the moment.

Cruz and Racal want to make their final year in college memorable.

Letran Knights forward Kevin Racal (16) seems to be walking along a tightrope as he tries to avoid the sideline while chasing down the basketball against a pair of Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals. Racal is focused on giving the Knights another NCAA title. Peter Atencio
It will be if they are able to help give Letran a championship.

“Priority ko ang NCAA. Ito ang liga na kasali ako ngayon,” said Cruz, who was drafted by Star Hotshots.

Cruz talked about his priorities right after he scored 20 points and Racal chipped in 18 as Letran prevailed  College of St. Benilde, 79-69, on Thursday.

This enabled the Knights to stretch its win streak to three in the NCAA Season 91 men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.

 “NCAA muna. Hindi ko muna masyadong iniisip ang PBA,” said Racal, who was picked by the Alaska Aces as the 11th overall selection.

Racal will certainly crack the Aces’ lineup this season. He was selected in the first round and plays the wing position where the Aces need all the help they could get.

With the win Knights took the lead with an 11-2 win-loss record after San Beda (10-3) bowed to Perpetual Help later in the day.

The other teams include the Arellano University Chiefs (10-4), the University of Perpetual Help System Altas (9-4), the Mapua Cardinals (8-5), the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers (7-6), the College of Saint Benilde Blazers (3-10), the San Sebastian College-Recoletos Stags (3-10), the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates (3-11) and the Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals (2-11).

Letran Knights point guard Mark Cruz (9) protects the basketball against an Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals defender. Cruz is focused on leading the Knights to the NCAA throne. Peter Atencio
The Knights fought back after falling behind early, 13-22, moving to within 38-40 at the half.

CSB was ahead 62-56 early in the fourth when the Knights came up with a 7-0 run to take control.

“Ang hirap na manalo ngayon. We started flat defensively in the first three quarters good thing in the fourth quarter naka-recover ang mga bata sa depensa,” said Knights coach Aldin Ayo who serves as one of the assistant coaches of the Mahindra Enforcers (formerly Kia Carnival) in the PBA.

Cruz said it is his dream to be part of the Knights team which have a chance to bag this year’s crown.

 “Gusto ko muna ma-experience mag-champion dito sa NCAA,” said Cruz, who made the finals in 2013 with a Knights team that lost to eventual champion San Beda.

On the other hand Racal wants to complete his job with the Knights. When that is finished that’s the time he’ll focus on a reunion with his former coach Louie Alas, who is the associate head coach of Alaska.

“Hindi lang siya ang makakasama. Iyung mga rivals ko, sina Calvin Abueva at si Rome de la Rosa,” said Racal, who plays forward for the Knights.

In a previous game, Cruz had a season-high 30 points in a heartbreaking 88-87 loss to San Sebastian.

Then he returned to score 29 markers along with four rebounds and two steals in the Knights’ 86-76 win over Emilio Aguinaldo College.

“Masarap ang feeling na nakikita mo ang maturity ng team sa endgame,” said Cruz.

The Letran point guard will definitely have a harder time of cracking the lineup of the team which drafted him to the PBA. After all the Star Hotshots already have Mark Barroca, Justin Melton and Alex Mallari manning the point guard spot.

Cruz can only hope to crack the Star Hotshots lineup by dislodging any of the three veterans. But that’s a worry for another day.

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