In the middle of the vast expanse of Florida Blanca in Pampanga can be found a basketball bubble training facility that offers Euro and American basketball programs for all ages—from children to aspiring varsity or professional players.
Inside the fenced, two-hectare Hustle Basketball Skills Lab is a semi-covered, FIBA-standard basketball court, jogging path, mini-gym, sand pit for strength and conditioning, ice bath facility for muscle recovery, mess hall, and air-conditioned sleeping quarters good for 40 people.
The facility, which is aimed at developing basketball players using the more advanced learning techniques, was built by power couple coach John Ross “JR” Dela Cruz and his wife Kristine.
Hustle offers a combination of programs adopted by top basketball academies in the United States and Europe.
Handling the technical part is JR who was a former collegiate and Philippine Basketball League standout. He was part of the Mapua Red Robins and the Far Eastern University Tamaraws that won back-to-back titles, respectively.
“May binuo kaming signature programs here at Hustle. The intensive skills training with periodized strength and conditioning, specifically for basketball players and yung Players Optimization,’ said Kristine, who serves as Hustle’s program coordinator.
The Intensive skills, which is catered to beginners to intermediate players, is a camp-style program and or one-on-one or both.
Even before the facility was built in November last year, the couple already conducted the program in various venues in Metro Manila.
High school and college students from La Salle, Ateneo, Xavier, San Beda, Don Bosco, San Sebastian, UST were some of the students that availed of the program.
“Their goal is makapasok sa varsity team at so far , maraming nakapasok sa schools through our program. Thankful naman kami sa mga parents na nag meme-message at nagpapasalamat,” said Kristine.
Preparations and skills development program
The Preparation and Skills Development programs are adopted by the Euro Basketball Academy where students are housed from one to three months before plunging into action in the collegiate or the professional league.
Under the intensive skills with periodize strength and conditioning, Hustle does camp-style training for exclusive groups on weekend stay-in or one-on-one sessions.
Kristine said they want to “address the gap for those amateurs wanting to go pro. Gusto natin na may ma experience silang program tulad nito. Sa Europe kasi may ganitong program kaya umaangat yung players nila.
Kristine said former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy accordingly stated that Filipinos are good basketball players but not great athletes, or something to that effect.
What did he mean by this?
Filipinos have inherent skills but they need to enhance their knowledge of basketball knowledge if they want to be world-class athletes and cope with the advances in global basketball. There may be development programs available but they need more high-level preparation programs.
“Kasi walang development program. Kumbaga, from barangay (or ligang labas) pwede ka na pa draft. From school pwede na din. Wala kasing sustainable training program. Some schools like Ateneo, yan na ngayon ang ginagawa.”
One of Hustle’s students is Momodou Faye, an 18-year-old, 6-10 project from Senegal.
He stayed for 15 days at Hustle and trained with coach JR. Faye will try his luck as import in collegiate teams.
He was preparing for a school tryout when pro-basketball agent Rey Punongbayan saw him at a scrimmage at Hustle and offered to help him to facilitate a tryout at De La Salle University.
“Boss Rey, kind-hearted as he always is, sponsored Mo’s additional seven days at the facility,” said coach JR.
Punongbayan said Faye has “natural mobility, quickness, dribbling skills and shooting touch. All he needs right now is to be developed and engaged in more competitive games like what he experienced last week when I brought him to DLSU.”
Punongbayan said he believes that Faye, with more constant training at Hustle under coach JR, son of Crispa legend Virgilio “Bong” Dela Cruz, will improve tremendously.
“Hustle helped improved Faye’s shooting. In only a week, his footwork, dribbling, and Basketball knowledge and confidence have improved.”
Player’s optimization program
The Players Optimization program is the banner program of Hustle. It is intended for players aspiring to become professional and current professional players who want to improve their game or prolong their career in the pro league.
Payers under this program have already gained or developed their fundamentals or possess high-level fundamentals and Hustle’s job is to optimize their skills to gain maximum game performance and be able to sustain it.
One of the most notable products of this Europe-developed concept is NBA’s Most Valuable player Giannis Antetokoumpo.
Antetokumpo underwent a similar program and the result was a dramatic transformation from a lanky, beanpole of a center to a stronger, faster, and bulky MVP player.
Then are those aging pros who want to prolong their playing career.
“Ito yung skills development, training load management, and injury prevention. We’re aiming for sustainability,” JR added.
“We provide training load for certain age brackets. For example, yung age late 30s or 40s, iba ung trainng load nila sa mas bata. Yung skills nandiyan na e, kaya dapat kaya dapat player optimization na yan. Titingnan sa age mo no yung bagay sayo na conditioning. Prone ka na ba sa injury? Hindi na sya more on technical, but more on how to prolong career na lang,” Kristine explained.
How it started
Sometime before the pandemic, JR was planning to get back to basketball either as a player or coach, but he got injured and was forced to sit in a wheelchair for a long period.
Then came an offer to join a basketball coaching seminar in the United States, but since was confined to a wheelchair, he needed someone to accompany him on the trip and reluctantly Kristine joined him and also registered as a coach.
She also fell in love with the nitty-gritty of the sport as she had no choice but also join in closed-door sessions where the name “hustle” popped up.
“Sa isang session, may narinig kami na sumisigay ng “hustle, hustle” so we adopted it as the brand for our camp. Sa simula sana maliit lang e, pero here we are now with a big facility.”
The facility was completed in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, phase by phase. But there are more to come, according to the couple.
Packages and future
They plan to develop more coaches by conducting coaching conferences and certification programs.
It offers a team-building facility for basketball teams and soon to other team sports and other disciplines.
“Soon, baka isunod natin volleyball din. We want to perfect the system first kasi ngayon lang talaga nag oopen after the pandemic. Dahan dahan lang namin ine- expand.”
The couple also plans to have their own basketball league so the players’ development can be sustained and applied in their own tournament.
Soon the facilities will have more areas for yoga and massage and a swimming pool.
They are also planning to have GPS-type equipment, similarly used in the NBA bubble n 2020, to assess a player’s performance scientifically from the beginning up to the end of a game.
Kristine said they cannot yet bring the technology here due to concerns about government regulations.
The power couple will never stop finding ways to continuously provide mature and globally competitive basketball programs at Hustle skills lab.