MANILA, Philippines – After a slow start, Mapua University has finally taken flight in the NCAA Season 95 men's basketball tournament, and providing the wind beneath the Cardinals' wings is a young core energized by Paolo Hernandez.
The prized rookie has been at the forefront of Mapua's impressive week, with the Cardinals racking up back-to-back wins over Emilio Aguinaldo College and Jose Rizal University.
"Siyempre, sabi nga ni coach, saan pa ba kami pupunta? 0-5 na kami eh," said Hernandez, referring to their luckless start to the season. "Wala na kaming ibang pupuntahan kundi panalo."
Hernandez heeded his coach Randy Alcantara's call, and the versatile forward averaged 15.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.0 steals in their past two victories.
That effort was more than enough for Hernandez to be recognized as the Chooks-to-Go Collegiate Press Corps NCAA Player of the Week.
After dropping 11 points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals in the Cardinals' 76-66 victory versus the Generals, he turned in a career game with 20 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in their loudest statement yet in the tournament, an 83-63 rout of the Heavy Bombers.
The 20-year-old rookie has immediately proven worthy of the trust given to him by Alcantara.
"Paolo Hernandez, kahit na isang taon lang sa Juniors, nakita ko agad 'yung leadership," said the coach. "Nakikita ko after [Laurenz] Victoria, magiging mukha ng Cardinals si Paolo Hernandez."
So far, so good for them as Hernandez follows Victoria in being hailed by scribes from print and online covering the beat as the week's best player -- keeping the award in Intramuros.
Hernandez, last year's Finals MVP in the NCAA juniors tournament, vowed to just keep working.
"Masaya ako sa tiwala ni coach, pero 'di ko muna iniisip yun. This season muna, tiyaga-tiyaga lang, step-by-step lang," said the rookie.
Hernandez bested Mapua teammate Victoria, San Beda University’s Donald Tankoua, and the Lyceum of the Philippines University pair of Jaycee Marcelino and Mike Nzeusseu for the weekly honor.
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