MANILA, Philippines—University of Santo Tomas (UST) rookie Mark Nonoy got a boost from one of Aldin Ayo's most iconic players, ahead of one of their biggest games of the season.
Mark Cruz, star of the Letran team that ruled the NCAA in 2015, practiced with the Growling Tigers before their stepladder semifinal game against the University of the Philippines on Sunday.
Cruz was the finals MVP in NCAA Season 91, when the unfancied Knights — coached by Ayo — stunned the San Beda Red Lions for their first title in a decade.
"Kailangan ko daw kontrolin ‘yung speed, at kailangan ko daw maging point guard. Pero sabi niya na pag-open, ‘yun, tira," said Nonoy, when asked what Cruz told him.
"Sa assist, tinuruan din ako paano pumasa. Siguro na-apply ko din, and na-inspire ako sa mga tinuro niya sa akin."
Cruz's words of wisdom stuck with the rookie guard, who proceeded to put up 16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in UST's 89-69 triumph over UP. That win extended the Growling Tigers' season, as they forced a do-or-die game for a spot in the finals against Ateneo.
Nonoy was honored to play against Cruz, who earned the nickname "Ant-Man" for his heroics in Season 91 for the Knights.
"Nag-scrimmage lang siya sa amin. Dinepensahan ko rin siya, hirap talaga," the UST guard said.
For Ayo, it was a delight to see his former player form a relationship with Nonoy. The two players have their similarities: Both are undersized guards who count on their speed as an advantage, and both compete with a fearlessness that Ayo demands from his players.
"Tinuturuan si Mark, kasi na-amaze din si Mark Cruz kay Mark Nonoy. Mine-mentor niya, especially ‘yung decision-making and ‘yung mga situations," said Ayo.
"Ang maganda dito, Mark Nonoy idolizes Mark Cruz eh, so lahat ng sinasabi ni Mark, naa-absorb ni Mark Nonoy. And malaking bagay sa amin ‘yan, and Ant-Man. Wala akong masabi.
"Kahit saan ako, andoon siya, tumutulong."
With UST's campaign in the UAAP still going strong, Nonoy said he will continue to be motivated by the diminutive Cruz.
"Hindi talaga sa height, sa puso talaga. Doon ko nakikita sa kanya ‘yung fighting spirit niya, grabe talaga," said Nonoy.
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