Tony Dela Cruz
Captain Crunch. Every team needs a voice to follow when the raucous crowd gets too loud: a voice to heed when the pressure starts to numb your senses. From the national team to the PBA Finals, to the Deer Valley locker room, TDLC has been that voice throughout his basketball journey, that calming baritone, echoing his steely presence, his words dropping to a drumbeat of order, of leadership, of courage under fire. He is captain. And when he speaks, we all follow.
Destiny can be an unpredictable bully. It is sometimes selective, it discriminates, it’s that mean kid on the playground that never picks you. And there’s not much we can do about it. The forces of fate are often too strong to counter, too loud to even question. But not Marc Pingris. He possesses a heart so large and so defiant, even Destiny fears it. It pumps blood, strength and swagger through his veins, allowing him to be more than himself, inspiring those around him to become greater than who they are. There’s a reason why Destiny always comes through Deer Valley with the purest intentions: it knows Marc Pingris is the ultimate master of his fate.
Call him Showtime. Joe Devance doesn’t steal the show, he IS the show. Sometimes it’s his dancing, his singing, the haircuts and the jokes. Sometimes it’s the sincerity in his voice, the genuine interest in what you have to say, the disarming charm and the warm hugs that he gives out like candy. But almost always, JDV puts on an absolute spectacle on 94 feet of hardwood. The most unique player in the game, he is the only one out there with the size of a big, the skills and vision of a PG and the touch of a scoring champ. All of that comes nicely wrapped around the selfless qualities of a perfect teammate and the heart of a champion.
Undrafted. Unknown. Practically invisible. That’s how PJ Simon came into the League. That’s how he still likes to come into games: Quiet, and still. He’s a silent workhorse with the work ethic, perseverance and self-belief that raised him to the highest level of winning. He doesn’t say much on the court, never shows off, never taunts and never complains. Quiet, and still. Until he goes on a scoring run on his own and changes the entire course of the game. After which he’ll look at you, say nothing, and you would have no comeback.
He is the classic underdog. Often overlooked, always underrated. Mark Barroca was hardly talked about, and never in the conversation. Until he showed that he belonged in the League. From third-string point guard to Finals MVP. Under the radar to undeniable All-Star. He is an explosive ball of energy coming straight at you. He will D you up, pesky and fierce, and on the other end, he will score on you. Finish with the left. Float with the right. Pull up jumpers. Spot up threes. His speed makes up for his size. His determination drives his tenacity. His heart fuels his desire to win. Dauntless in the face of thundering crowds and the toughest opponents, his fearless demeanor never changes.
Chris Banchero is a switchblade, a deceptive weapon concealed behind the guise of your own wrong assumptions. He is equal parts smooth and smash: a wicked combination of calm and chaos. He flips the switch between controlled, fundamental point guard to hard-charging, board-crashing locomotive. Just when you start thinking you’ve boxed him in, literally and figuratively, CB will outrun, outhustle, and downright outplay you, leaving you in the dust.
They say that poker is equal parts luck and skill. The ability to determine which hand to go with, to measure odds and probabilities, the courage to risk it all for the big reward, these are all necessary to become king of the table. What many forget is that poker, like basketball, is a game that wins on perfect timing. You have to know when to wait, when to pick your spots and when to finally, strike. Kevin Alas has seen the cards in his hand, he’s waited past the flop, the turn, and now, right before the river, he’s ready to go all in on himself. Aces up, it’s time to breakout the future.
Non-Stop. Elite level speed. Strength. Shooting. Vision. Agility. Beard. No one’s supposed to have all these things. Stanley Pringle does. His exceptional skill set is an embarrassment of riches: with top-class abilities and seemingly no true weakness to his game. When you’re this wealthy, it’s easy to spend for the sake of spending: a behind-the-back pass here for no good reason, a pull-up three there just because. Not Stanley. He’s a philanthropist, unselfish with the ball and the credit. He’s economical, never a move that goes to waste. And he keeps coming at you, as his name suggests. You know what they say, once you pop…
We’ve seen them all, or so we thought. Then a 6’7” rookie with range, handles and through-the-ceiling basketball IQ broke into the League. Troy Rosario changed the game just by joining it. All of a sudden, the race to acquire the biggest big man ground to a halt. Now you had to worry about speed, versatility, and youth. He is everything a millennial is not painted to be: humble, hardworking and has earned every single thing he has. From his college title, to his gold medals, to the torch passed to him by those who came before. This is the future, and the future begins at Deer Valley.
Throughout history, the King Archer crown has been passed on from one La Salle player to another. From fiery point guards to the sharpest of shooters, from dominant big men to bruising slashers. Prince Rivero is standing in line to the throne, by birthright, by seniority, by name, even. Undersized since the get-go, Prince has proven that his game is larger than his frame, and he is greater than the sum of all your doubts. He is a natural-born winner. A fighter. A fearless performer in the clutch. One day he will be king. Or not. But he will always be at the frontlines, ready for battle, where the only title that matters is the one that comes with victory.
Fearless. That’s what they say about young people. When Jollo Go was reppin’ the flag against the world’s best in his age group, his lack of respect for the concept of fear stood taller than his massive international opponents. Big shot ready, big moment brave, big break guaranteed. Don’t let the demeanor fool you. That’s not being timid, that’s not being shy. That’s quiet confidence. Silent calculation. That’s total, unequivocal absence of fear. Jollo is looking at the light, shifter in gear, foot heavy on the pedal, ready to go. Just say when.
The mistake would be to make it about gender. Because it’s not about that, not at all. What makes Justine special is not that she balls so well for a girl. The big deal about her is that she balls so well. Period. It’s the ball-handling, the shot-making, the relentless defense that forces turnovers, those things set her apart. She’s worked too hard, she’s far too good, to be pigeonholed into just being “The Girl.” A single, shallow, label. To settle for that would not be very Titan. That would not be the Deer Valley way. So don’t care too much about her being a girl. She won’t care about your gender when she smokes you on the court anyway.
Deadshot. In an era where the long ball is king, Von Pessumal is the royal court’s favorite knight. Shooting-form perfect, raging confidence quiet; Von is as smooth as he is relentless. The ease he plays with under the bright lights is only a product of the torture he puts himself through in the darkness: where no one can see, where it’s only him and his craft, his unquenchable thirst to be better, and his commitment to hit the target, anytime, all the time, from no matter how far away.
Young Bounce. When you’re part of a basketball family, it’s hard to stand out. If your brother has panned out to become a college basketball stud, it’s difficult to make a mark. That’s of course unless you’re the most athletic prospect coming out of high school in recent history. Ricci Rivero is much more than a dunk machine though. Don’t make that mistake. His windmills are only half as impressive as his natural tenacity on defense, his ever-evolving offensive game and his courage to rise to any challenge. Go on a different path and make your own name? Hell no. He’s rolling with family. He’s Prince’s brother, yes. That makes him a lord by birth, a noble by game. Bow down.
The Remix. Say hello to the guy you can no longer sleep on. His playing style is like his personality: loud, lovable and undeniable. However, much like many hit tracks that sample off of a classic, Simon’s game is also steady and peaceful in the verse, quicker and shiftier right before the drop. And then, the hook: quick in-and-out cross, sidestep, contact, bucket. He is everything a classic point guard is, and everything it’s not. All at the same time.
Mystery Machine. What should’ve been: if Tyler didn’t sit his rookie year. What could have been: if Tyler was allowed to take that team to a different level. What woulda been: if he was on the floor, not in the first row. Patience, as they say, is a virtue. Great things come to those who wait and make no mistake about it, Tyler Tio is great. No shoulda, woulda, coulda’s here. Only what can be. And what will be.
The Neo-Renaissance Man. The film called Mr. Anderson the chosen one. Even before he put on the iconic trench coat, before he hooked up with the girl, way before Morpheus showed him the matrix, he was already famous. Or infamous, depending on how you see it. Either way, whether he picked up that Nokia banana phone or not, he was destined for greatness. Gerald Anderson is the same deal: a Renaissance Man of sorts. If it was a tryout instead and not The House he entered way back, he would still be famous, still on a path to greatness; except he’d be ballin’ out and not perfecting the artistry of his craft. Don’t get it twisted though, red pill or blue pill, he’d still beat you either way.
Basketball, played at its finest, moves to a beat, bounces to a rhythm and sways to a melody. Rayver Cruz knows these elements all too well. But when he’s not lifting ladies over his head or telling a tragic love story through dance, he’s telling a different tale, one almost as sad, for his opponents on the basketball court. Length, athleticism, and a knack for finishing on the break: he is a paradox in the open court, at once gracefully refined and a total nightmare to defend. He’ll come at you quick, juke left, spin right, rise over and above and before you can even hear that basketball beat that he’s dancing to, all you’ll hear is nothing but the bottom of the net.
Bomber Man. Being good is common, being great is fleeting. Excellence, however, sustained and unflinching, is the ultimate of achievements. And there is no doubt, Boom Gonzalez is the ultimate. He stands strong, the picture of professionalism, the model for those who wish to tread the path that he himself has helped create. From sports to music to everything that is and isn’t in between, Boom has used his tireless pursuit for excellence to push himself and those around him to be better. He will not let up, he knows not why or how to slow down. He is the eye of the storm, the center of the blast site. Get too close and you’ll feel his effect; and that’s if you’re lucky.
Super Spice. A citizen of the world, a perfect product of continents and cultures continously shifting and merging, Carla D is herself a tectonic force. Excellent in every field she dabbles in, she is this country’s and that country’s most dynamic star. From stage to sound to screen, she’s VC in the Dunk Contest dominant. Above all however, is her heart: that of a champion’s, that of a saint’s. A rare combination, absolutely. But that’s the thing about C-Buckets that you need to understand. She’s never-before-seen, she’s unreal, she’s downright unfair.
When he picked up a basketball at age five, Dominic Tuason was a natural. Then he picked up a second ball, and natural quickly turned to uncanny. As if he was born dribbling two basketballs. He made short work of the basics. Figure eights. Crossovers. Scissors. Triples. Kept adding to his bag of basketball wizardry and became an instant hit. From kids twice his age to the most unguardable player on the planet, everyone took notice of the little kid with the crazy handles. How well he understands the game this early is only surpassed by how much he loves playing it. Is Dom destined for basketball greatness? One thing’s for sure, following his basketball journey will be a lot of fun.
Many are called, but few are chosen. Greatness demands a special kind of athlete. It calls for a unique combination of skill and talent, grit and determination, a relentless desire to win. Greatness puts you on the line with sixth-tenths of a second left in overtime, with your team down one and a championship in the balance. It will test you, try to break you, push you beyond your limits. Most people give in to the pressure. But Jeffrey Cariaso never did. Instead he became All-Defense, All-Star, Finals MVP and won multiple championships. After fifteen years in the League, Coach Jeff only knows how to play the game one way. It’s exactly the same way he teaches you how to play. No quit. No compromise. No fear. Leave everything out on the floor, on both ends of the court. The way of the few.
For Banjo Albano, basketball is a way of life. Many claim to live and breathe the game, but few can call it a family business. His basketball heritage runs deep, his championship pedigree proud and celebrated. As an athlete, he perfected his dead shot aim and on court skills as an elite competitor, by way of Staten Island, NY. His journey has brought him back home, back to where it all began a generation before. His coaching roots run even deeper, grounded in the winning ways of basketball tradition. With Coach B at the helm of the Titan Basketball Academy, he is dedicated to teaching a new generation of athletes to become true competitors. Indeed, ball is life.
They called him Superman. When you wear an “S” on your chest, great expectations come well before the ink dries out. Sudan Daniel took the weight of his school’s storied basketball legacy on his shoulders and carried his team back to the Promised Land. Rookie of the Year. MVP. Two-Time Champion. Revered as one of the most dominant players in the history of college basketball, only few recognize his alter ego. Coach Su. Mild-mannered and infectious, his gigantic personality is his greatest weapon. His innate ability to teach the game’s next generation is as impressive as his celebrated on-court powers.
Champions are born, not made. Or are they made and not born. It’s one of basketball’s greatest debates, but for Coach Nick Ocampo, it’s all the same to him. As a seasoned Trainer on a Grand Slam team, he has worked with his fair share of exceptional athletes, superstars and legends in the making. Always behind the scenes, tirelessly putting in the work, his hardnosed work ethic and determination have helped produce an impressive line of champions, both born and made. He believes that the key to a successful athlete is the ability to discover weakness and to relentlessly work on it. From summer camp to training camp, Coach Nick’s passion for making athletes better is always the same.
Trill Thrill. Greatness, as history has taught us, comes at a heavy price. If you want to scale the mountain, be willing to carry with you the burden of being disliked, maybe even hated. It’s a long, steep climb that you complete on your own, with nothing but your flag beside you on the summit. Of course Willie Miller heard all this and laughed it off, his glowing career as a champion and two-time MVP comprising just half of his basketball life’s accomplishments. It’s the love that every single teammate, fan and opponent has for him that truly makes him special. He’ll torch you between the lines, drop you on a crossover or sink a game-winner in your face. And yet, you’ll read between the lines, when he smiles at you after and taps your butt as you run back, it’s all love, baby. The Thriller won games, trophies and hearts. And he did it all his way. Big Willie Style.