‘Mini Jalalon’ continues to impress for the Chiefs in crucial stretch
Superstitions have always been a huge part of Levi dela Cruz’ game that he continues to wear the same uniform he played well in for his next games.
“Whatever I wore when I felt lucky, I won’t stop wearing it. Whatever I used when I was named the best player or whenever I play well, I would continue using it,” said dela Cruz, pointing to his gray jersey after pouring 20 points, five assists, three rebounds, and two steals in Arellano’s 81-64 win over Mapua on Tuesday.
But no matter how superstitious he is, Dela Cruz, of course, washes his clothes first.
It looked like Dela Cruz’ lucked rubbed off the Chiefs as they strung four straight wins in their late Final Four run to go up to an even 9-9 slate with the pint-sized playmaker leading the way.
Dela Cruz has stepped up to the plate for Arellano, filling the shoes left by Kent Salado in the last two games, with the lead guard out for the season due to a slight MCL tear on his right knee.
Interestingly, dela Cruz is wearing jersey number 16, the same number Salado wore until he changed to 3 this year. But he argued that it’s just pure coincidence, explaining that he devoted his number to his parents’ anniversary.
Coach Jerry Codiñera, however, says that dela Cruz isn’t so much of a Salado, but more of a Jio Jalalon, going as far as giving him a moniker of his own.
“He’s like a mini version of Jalalon. The Mini Bus Driver, or the Coaster Driver,” the PBA great said, triggering smiles from the press.
Turning serious, Codiñera sees big things ahead for his 22-year-old guard.
“For a rookie, he’s outstanding. I think he’s our third best player and I hope he’ll continue. He has a bright future, but he has to mature, his shot selection has to keep improving, and we continue on improving. He has to shoot well, defend well, and he has to direct and lead the team,” he said.
Humbled with the comparison, dela Cruz knows that he’s still far from the level of the former Arellano playmaker.
“It’s still far. I’m challenged whenever coach Jerry gives me advice, especially when I commit mistakes. I always listen to him and I try my best to achieve what we’re trying to reach, to correct my miscues so that next game, I can correct those. It’s still a learning process for me and I know that I still have a lot to learn,” he said.
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