Jericho Cruz named to Guam's national pool for FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers

NLEX guard Jericho Cruz could see action for another country's national team after being named to Guam's 24-man pool for the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.

Cruz told ESPN5's Lyn Olavario that it was Guam head coach EJ Calvo who reached out to NLEX management in order to open the possibility of him playing for them.

"Just (an) exchange of emails between (team manager) Ronald (Dularte) and coach EJ. So far, the conversations are doing good but they need to consider a lot of things before they can finally decide. Whatever decision will be, I will respect that," Cruz said.

Based on FIBA rules, coach Calvo told ESPN5.com that Cruz is eligible to play for Guam, a US territory, since he holds a U.S. passport owing to his father's nationality.

The 29-year-old was raised by his father in Saipan, the largest island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CMNI), and began playing here. He later helped CNMI's national basketball team place sixth in the 2008 FIBA Oceania Youth Tournament.

"Jericho got his U.S. passport as a young boy, and his father's birth certificate connects him to Guam," he disclosed. "Guam is a US territory and to be eligible for Team Guam, you must carry US passport. In addition, you have to have connection to the island by birth certificate or residency."

Calvo added that plans to bring Cruz on board Guam's national team had been in the making for quite some time now.

"We've known Jericho since he was a young standout on the nearby island of Saipan long before his name was known to basketball fans in the Philippines. We've been friends for years, and he has known most of the guys who play for Guam since high school," he said.

"It was a couple of years ago in Manila that we first discussed him playing for Guam's national team, which I have coached since 2012," added Calvo. "We have know that he is eligible by FIBA rules, and we finally agreed to move forward."

After his stint in Saipan, Cruz transferred to the Philippines to play for the Rizal Technological University in the National Capital Region Athletic Association (NCRAA) and was then recruited by current San Miguel head coach Leo Austria to play for Adamson in the UAAP.

Cruz, who also donned the Philippine colors in the 2013 team that won gold in the Southeast Asian Games basketball tournament in Myanmar, called the inclusion "a blessing."

"Every player would want to play internationally. One of my dreams talaga (really) is to play for the Philippines, but luck isn't in my side here," he said. "And I know it's gonna be a great experience too, so I can carry it over when I play for NLEX."

Cruz is an integral backcourt piece for the Road Warriors, which saw a promising PBA Governors' Cup campaign come to an end early after botching a twice-to-beat advantage as the top seed against eight-seeded NorthPort Batang Pier. The guard logged 8.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 13 games, including five starts.

Guam, officially an organized US territory in Micronesia, is among 24 teams eyeing one of 16 slots in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup. The team, ranked no. 73 in the world, is slated to compete against Australia (no. 3), New Zealand (no. 24) and Hong Kong (no. 106) there.

Its first game will come against Hong Kong on Feb. 20 and the team will later fly back home to host New Zealand on Feb. 23.

Aside from Cruz, two other former UAAP players are also part of Guam's pool in Chris Conner and Will Stinnett.

Conner played for University of the East in Season 82 and played 10 minutes a game for the Red Warriors, averaging 5.5 points and 2.6 rebounds. Stinnett, meanwhile, suited up for Adamson in 2010 and played for Hawke's Bay Hawks in New Zealand's NBL in 2016.

Calvo said there are other players with Filipino blood on the roster.

"About 30 percent of Guam's population are Filipino or mixed," he said. "We have several others with Filipino ethnicity on our roster. They were all either born in Guam as US citizens or became passport holders whle growing up in Guam prior to age 16."

ESPN5's Lyn Olavario contributed to this report.