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Rookies hold their own vs the big boys

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Six rookies, including five stalwarts of the Gilas Cadet national pool led by Mac Belo of the Blackwater Elite, have shown strong potential after the opening week of the PBA Philippine Cup.

Belo, the 6-foot-4 power forward from Far Eastern University, has helped the Elite open with a franchise best 2-0 card following wins against Phoenix Fuel (99-87) and Meralco (86-84).

In his pro debut, Belo collected 17 points and nine rebounds as Blackwater got its first inaugural day win since joining the league as an expansion team in 2014. He was even deadlier the following game as he scored 21 of his team-high 25 points in the second half – 12 in the final period – against the Bolts.

Despite his early success, the soft-spoken Belo said that he knows that he still has a long way to go and that he needs to improve on many other aspects of his game.

“Madami pa ako kailangan na i-improve and madami pa ako kailangan na malaman as a player,” said Belo, a native of Midsayap, Cotabato. “Sa ngayon, basta kung ano maitutulong ko sa team, gagawin ko lang para manalo.”

“Magandang start para sa amin, basta focus lang sa game. Malaki yung tiwala ng coaches sa akin; nagkakaroon ako ng kumpiyansa,” added Belo, who won Finals MVP during last year’s UAAP when he helped the FEU Tamaraws win the title.

Fellow FEU alums Roger Pogoy and Mike Tolomia also had solid outings for their respective teams.

Tolomia had 11 points, four rebounds and two assists as Rain or Shine defeated TNT, 101-87, last Wednesday, while Pogoy finished with 15 points off the bench as he helped the KaTropa rally to beat Governors’ Cup champion Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 108-103, last Sunday.

“Masaya kasi good start sa amin,” said Pogoy, referring to their performance in the first week as pros, just a year removed from celebrating FEU’s successful championship run. “Hopefully ma-sustain.”

Aside from the three, their Gilas Cadet teammates Carl Bryan Cruz and Jio Jalalon also did well in their PBA baptism.

Cruz, who also played for FEU but was no longer with the team when it ruled the UAAP, had a good performance for Alaska as he top scored for the team with 20 points while hauling down 14 rebounds with two steals in a 99-97 loss to NLEX.

The 6-foot-3 Cruz shot 6-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-7 from three-point territory, before fouling out late in the game after nearly 27 minutes of action.

“Hindi ko expect talaga, pero kulang kami kaya suwerte na binigyan ako ng playing time,” said Cruz, referring to the absence of injured veterans Calvin Abueva and Sonny Thoss. “Pero ready naman ako and everybody really need to step up for the team.”

As for Jalalon, a former NCAA Most Valuable Player from Arellano University had 11 points and five rebounds in Star’s 96-88 setback to SMB. Jonathan Grey, the only non-Gilas player, also had a solid first game as he scored 11 points for Meralco.

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