‘This Kid Can Play’: Ginebra Rookie Ralph Cu is Showing He Belongs in the PBA

When Barangay Ginebra rookie forward Ralph Cu was asked if he was aware that he was one assist shy of registering a triple double Sunday night, he simply shook his head.

His coach, though, had more to say.

“He better not be aware,” Tim Cone said moments after Cu had 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists in Ginebra’s 95-88 win over the NorthPort Batang Pier in the 2024 PBA Philippine Cup. “We shouldn’t be looking at our stats during the game.”

It’s easy to believe that Cu wasn’t counting his stats. Watching him weave his magic against the Batang Pier, it was obvious that the only thing he was looking at during the game was making the right play.

When he reentered the game at the 7:38 mark of the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 80. Cu immediately made his presence felt, dishing an assist to Christian Standhardinger for an undergoal stab before finding Scottie Thompson for a corner triple that gave Ginebra a five-point cushion.

After the Batang Pier stormed back to tie it up at 85, Cu calmly sank a triple that gave Ginebra the lead for good. His final assist to Standhardinger with 30 seconds left sealed the outcome.

“We just had an unbelievable game-high by Ralph that just kept us close,” Cone noted.

It’s been that kind of second conference thus far for the 27-year-old as he slowly finds his bearings in the pro league. After appearing in just eight games and averaging a meager 1.1 points per game in the Commissioner’s Cup, Ralph Cu has made a big leap in the Philippine Cup, where he is now averaging nearly 9 points per game.

Not only were his 24 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists against NorthPort all career-highs, they were more than his total points (9), rebounds (5) and total assists (5) in the Commissioner’s Cup.

‘He makes good decisions’

All this from a rookie who didn’t exactly light it up in college. In his lone UAAP season, Ralph Cu appeared in just three contests for the De La Salle Green Archers in Season 84, averaging less than two points per game. He also suited up for DLSU in the Season 84 men’s 3×3 event, but come Season 85, his name wasn’t in the final roster.

Cu made his way to the PBA 3×3 circuit, where Ginebra gave him a break. He suited up for the Kings in last year’s PBA On Tour, his first exposure to 5×5 hoops at the pro level. Cone didn’t coach Ginebra in the PBA On Tour, so he didn’t know what Cu brought to the table. The team was handled by assistant Richard Del Rosario, who immediately saw Cu’s potential.

“I think Ralph knows his limits in terms of skills, so he uses his mind to really think the game,” Del Rosario told The Game. “He follows instructions and he makes good decisions inside the court. We saw that in the PBA on Tour, that’s why we highly recommended him to Coach Tim during the draft.”

The Kings eventually picked Cu 23rd overall in last year’s rookie draft. After that, Cone picked him to scrimmage with Gilas Pilipinas in their preparation for the Asia Games.

Del Rosario credits Ginebra’s strength and conditioning coach for unlocking Cu’s potential, even as the kid reminds him of another Ginebra great.

“A lot of his improvement should also be credited to Coach Kirk Collier because he coached him in 3×3 and introduced basketball concepts that he is using now in 5×5. Ralph really reminds me of Joe Devance in terms of basketball smarts.”

Cu also points to Collier as the one who helped him get a better understanding of the PBA game.

“Actually, sa performance ko, hindi naman ang offense ang tinitignan ko eh. I need to improve on my defense more. During my 3×3 days, si Coach Kirk iyan ang sinasabi niya sa akin, na to be good here in 5×5, I need to improve my defense. So I’ve been working on that ever since.”

Although Cone never saw Cu play in the On Tour, he quickly saw that the rookie would be a perfect fit for Ginebra.

“We talk about chemistry a lot, and Ralph, from the very beginning when he walked into the first practice, everybody was like, ‘Wow, this kid can play,’” Cone recalled. “He just had that presence about him, that calm, relaxed presence about him. He sees the floor extremely well. He has really great instincts. And we see it every day in practice. Guys are really excited about helping him out and teaching him.”

Even Cu’s teammates see his value, so much so that they’re all getting into his ear all the time.

“If no one’s saying anything to you, then they probably don’t think much of you,” Cone noted. “Poor guy, he’s got 12, 14 coaches on the floor right now. Everybody’s trying to coach him. But that’s because he’s still a rookie. But he doesn’t really need a lot of coaching because his instincts are all there.”

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