By Drei Christopher Villanueva
There comes a time in every athlete’s life when they need to call it a career. For longtime Alaska Aces Team Captain Tony dela Cruz, that time has come after years of being the most vocal individual during practice, bringing his leadership to players while keeping a hold of the team. But now, the veteran cager has decided the time’s come for him to relinquish the skipper’s job to three players being groomed to be the next leaders of the Aces team.
“I have relinquished it to RJ (Jazul), JVee (Casio) and Calvin (Abueva),” Dela Cruz said.
The decision to pass the leadership mantle isn’t just a way to prepare the three for positions as the new voices inside the court, but a sign that Dela Cruz is now preparing for retirement. Indeed, he, along with fellow veteran Dondon Hontiveros is playing his last season.
“I think it’s a good time to say that I’m done. I want to go out and play hard and win championships before I retire,” said Dela Cruz. “As for the captainship, it’s about trying to foster leadership, and those three guys specifically have been instrumental in helping the team grow.”
Standing at 6-foot-4, Dela Cruz has been with the squad since 2006 and was part of Alaska’s championship teams in the 2006-07, and 2010 and 2013 Commissioner’s Cup. At the moment, the forward has no plans of joining the coaching staff, but plans to help out on a smaller scale by teaching younger players
“I’ve seen how hard the coaching staff worked and I don’t have that passion as a coach as I do as a player. As a player, you just have to go to the gym early, shoot, go to the practice and keep yourself healthy. As a coach, you spend hours and hours and hours, viewing and scouting. I really respect the perfection of being a coach and I just think at this point I don’t think I’m passionate to be a coach in that aspect,” said Dela Cruz.
“But I want to focus my final year with Alaska as a player, hopefully win championships.”
Dela Cruz, however, isn’t closing on sharing what he had learned from the long years of playing in the PBA.
“I definitely want to help and teach in terms of coaching I really haven’t thought about that. But I would help the organization and see whatever opportunity there is for me to help other younger basketball players grow,” he added.
For Hontiveros, he’s looking on a possible retirement with a different approach although he didn’t close the prospect that winning a championship would be a logical conclusion for him to end an already illustrious career.
“I would like to think na this is my final year and ibinigay ko talaga lahat, pero hindi mo pa rin masasabi kung ano pa yung kaya mong maibigay eh,” added Hontiveros. “Andun pa rin naman yung passion mo, excited ka pa rin mag-practice everyday. Excited ka pa rin sa workout. Kapag andyan pa yun, titingnan mo kung ano pa yung magagawa mo or maitutulong mo…But if ever again I’ll be given a chance to win a championship, mas masarap to go out.”
Hontiveros won championships playing for the old San Miguel franchise, and he has been longing to win another one with Alaska, definitely coming close over the past two seasons.
“Awa ng Diyos wala naman tayong serious na injury na nararamdaman now, yung age lang talaga,” he said in jest. “If darating sa point na at the end of the season kaya pa rin ba talaga or if you might hinder the growth of the other players, like yung ginagawa ni Coach Alex (Compton) na ibinibigay yung mantle ng responsibilities sa younger players like JVee, kay RJ, and Calvin to be vocal para masanay sila.”