By Stefan Djordjevic/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Montakit Fuenlabrada signed Francisco “Pako” Cruz back in 2016 as a backup guard behind Marko Popovic but it was up to him to become something even bigger. And he did. Cruz has not only gained everybody’s trust and more minutes on the court but has also become one of the team leaders over the past two years.
But how did he get there? Who exactly is Francisco Cruz and what path did he follow in order to get where he is now?
Eurohoops tracks back Cruz’s journey from a brave dream-chasing teenager to becoming the “submachine gun of Nogales” (Metralleta de Nogales), the leader of the Mexican national team and a key part of Fuenlabrada.
The life-changing journey to the USA
Cruz was born in 1989 in Nogales, a city that is placed on the US-Mexico border and therefore almost divided, a detail which makes kids even more curious about trying their luck on the other side. At the age of 15, he caught the attention of coach Vince Valdez during a youth tournament and he was invited to join a US public school. Young Pako was given a chance to fulfill his dreams and he decided to take it. However, he also had to take an enormous risk and go through many hardships in order to play basketball in the US.
Cruz traveled four thousand (4,000) kilometers in a passenger van (along with friends Chato Torres and former NBAer Jorge Gutierrez) in order to reach Denver while not having proper documents (only tourist visa) and knowledge of the English language. Once he was there, in order to stay, he had to find a job – which was usually heavy work – side by side with studies and basketball.
Nonetheless, Cruz found a way. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School (2008) after which he joined Western Nebraska Community College for two years and then finally made it to the NCAA by moving to the Wyoming Cowboys. He played 64 games for the Cowboys in total averaging 11 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2 assists.