PBA: Much improved Jericho Cruz will be crucial for NLEX, says Guiao

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 30 2021 02:19 PM

PBA: Much improved Jericho Cruz will be crucial for NLEX, says Guiao 1
NLEX guard Jericho Cruz (39) played for Guam in the recent FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers. FIBA.basketball

MANILA, Philippines -- NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao was delighted to see Jericho Cruz shine for Guam during the recent FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.

The Road Warriors agreed to release Cruz to his national team, and the veteran guard came through with a pair of superb performances against Hong Kong in the window held in Amman, Jordan.

In a 103-83 rout of Hong Kong in their first game, Cruz put up 24 points and seven assists, while shooting 9-of-16 from the field including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Two days later, they booked another big win over Hong Kong, 112-66, with Cruz contributing 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including three three-pointers. 

In three games for Guam, Cruz averaged 16 points, four rebounds, and 4.7 assists. They finished third in the group with a 2-1 win-loss record, and advanced to the final Qualifying Tournament for third-ranked teams.

Speaking on "The Gilas Zone," Guiao expressed his happiness at how Cruz performed for Guam, particularly the improvement he showed in terms of his perimeter shooting.

"I know for one thing, he's been working on his three-point shot," Guiao said of Cruz, who trained with Guam in the United States before the final window.

"He knows he can drive to the basket, he knows he can slash. But one thing probably that's needed improvement -- he could make the outside shot. He could make the three-point shot, but he had to make it with consistency," he added.

Guiao was pleased to see that Cruz made his outside shots consistently in the Jordan window, as he believes this will be crucial for the Road Warriors once they return to action in the PBA.

Cruz averaged 13.2 points, 3.8 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game for NLEX in last season's All-Filipino Cup, shooting 51.6% from the field including 38.3% from beyond the arc.

"What I saw in Amman was that he was making the three-point shot with consistency. So that's going to help us a lot, and that's going to help his game a lot," Guiao said. "I'm really excited about that aspect of his game, really improving."

Cruz also improved as a passer and a defender, as well as a leader, noted Guio. 

Come the next season of the PBA, the coach expects Cruz to take a bigger leadership role along with the pair of Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas.

With the three guards finally healthy together, Guiao is optimistic that the Road Warriors "can compete with any backcourt combinations in the PBA."

NLEX is looking for a better showing in the upcoming season of the PBA, after missing the playoffs in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup with a 5-6 win-loss record.