Mapua has finally taken flight in the NCAA 95 Men’s Basketball Tournament - and providing the wind beneath the Cardinals’ wings is a youthful core that has been energized by Paolo Hernandez.
The prized rookie has been at the vanguard of Mapua’s impressive week which saw it follow up a breakthrough win against Arellano with back-to-back victories over EAC and JRU.
“Siyempre, sabi nga ni coach, saan pa ba kami pupunta? 0-5 na kami e,” said Hernandez, talking about their luckless start to the season. “Wala na kaming ibang pupuntahan kundi panalo.”
Heeding the call of head coach Randy Alcantara, the 6-foot-3 versatile forward did the most damage in their recent back-to-back wins wherein he averaged 15.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.0 steals.
That effort was more than enough for Hernandez to be recognized as the Chooks-to-Go Collegiate Press Corps NCAA Player of the Week.
After dropping 11 points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals in the Cardinals' 76-66 victory versus the Generals, he turned in a career game with 20 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in their loudest statement yet in the tournament, an 83-63 rout of the Heavy Bombers.
Without a doubt, the 20-year old has only proven worthy of the trust he has been given in his rookie year.
“Paolo Hernandez, kahit na isang taon lang sa Jrs., nakita ko agad yung leadership,” said Alcantara, his mentor from the Red Robins and now, the Cardinals. “Nakikita ko after [Laurenz] Victoria, magiging mukha ng Cardinals si Paolo Hernandez.”
So far, so good for them as Hernandez follows Victoria in being hailed by scribes from print and online covering the beat as the week's best player - keeping the award in Intramuros.
For his part, though, the Finals MVP in last year’s NCAA Jrs. vowed to just get back to work and keep working.
“Masaya ako sa tiwala ni coach, pero 'di ko muna iniisip yun. This season muna, tiyaga-tiyaga lang, step-by-step lang,” said Hernandez who bested Mapua teammate Victoria, San Beda’s Donald Tankoua, and the Lyceum pair of Jaycee Marcelino and Mike Nzeusseu.