There is no denying the heart and determination of Pasig-Sta. Lucia Realtors big man Justin Arana.
During the first quarter of their tight do-or-die quarterfinals matchup against the powerhouse San Juan Knights Go For Gold-AICC on Tuesday, the 6-foot-7 center went down clinging onto his right foot after twisting his ankle as he stepped on an opponent’s foot.
The moment worried Pasig head coach Bong Dela Cruz, as the squad was in the middle of an intense back-and-forth battle against the Lakan Cup runners-up.
In addition, Arana has been the defensive anchor of the squad throughout the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Invitational powered by TM.
Arana would be subbed out right after with San Juan up, 10-8 at the 4:24 mark of the opening period, leaving the Realtors a cloud of uncertainty for a while.
Fortunately, Arana would return in the second quarter as his right ankle sprain wasn’t too sever.
“Nag-worry ako doon noong na-sprain si Justin. Nagpray ako na makarecove. Noong sinabi sa akin na okay si Justin, ayun. ‘Yung laban niya, ‘yung puso ni Justin, nandoon eh,” Dela Cruz said.
It allowed the Realtors to go toe-to-toe against one of the touted heavyweights of the competition, in a game which saw eight lead changes and 10 ties and where the biggest lead of either side was only five points.
‘Yun talaga ‘yung pinakang kailangan namin eh. Kailangan namin mag-double effort sa depensa. Doon talaga kami nag-focus sa depensa.
The Realtors would eventually knock the Knights out of the playoffs, 70-66 and Arana’s presence couldn’t be better underscored as he finished with a key double-double of 11 points and 11 boards, to go along with four blocked shots.
“Sobrang kailangan namin itong laro na ito kaya kahit ma-injury pa ako, ipapa-tape ko lang, laban na ulit ako. ‘Yun lang ‘yung nasa mindset ko kanina kasi kailangan namin manalo para sa Sta. Lucia,” Arana said after the game, talking about his desire to finish the game while playing a bit hurt.
He also helped his team limit the Knights to only 12 fourth quarter points as they eventually took home the victory.
“Lagi rin akong kinakausap na kailangan ko mag-focus dahil ako lang nag-iisang big man. Sa akin magi-start ang depensa. Naging focused lang kami sa depensa and ‘yun nga, nakuha namin ang panalo.”
Interestingly, it was Dela Cruz who discovered the serviceable big man from Bicol when he was still a 15-year-old standout starring in the Palarong Pambansa.
This was what led to Arana’s stint with the UST Growling Tigers when Dela Cruz was still handling the UAAP team.
“Isa si Justin na lalabas as magaling na amateur. Sana dumire-diretso siya ng tingin or focus na straight lang sa basketball,” Dela Cruz shared, adding that he hopes the budding slotman can build on his basketball career with the proper mindset and preparation.
Quite fittingly, it was also Arana who delivered for Dela Cruz, as the mentor saw his prized recruit flourish right before his very eyes.
Photos from Chooks-to-Go MPBL
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