After a memorable collegiate basketball experience, former Benilde Blazers’ team captain JC Cullar has officially turned pro after joining the Pampanga Royce in the Pilipinas Super League (PSL). But before he begins his professional career, let’s take a look at the amazing journey Cullar embarked so far.
The five-foot-eleven guard, originally dawning the colors of red and white of the University of the East (UE) Red Warriors, transferred to Benilde in 2019, in hopes of a larger role and developing his game even further. In an exclusive interview with The Benildean, Cullar mentioned several factors that led to his commitment to Benilde, “Ok ‘yung mga seniors, ok ‘yung mga coaches, kaya feel ko agad na maganda ‘yung culture and environment, and I think isa ‘yun sa mga factors sa pag-lipat ko sa Benilde.”
“Originally, sa Adamson talaga ako pupunta dahil nandoon ‘yung best friend ko na si Vince Magbuhos, bago ako bumalik ng Italy, tumawag sila Coach Charles [Tiu], and ayun first try out ko pa lang ang sarap sa feeling na nandoon ako sa gano’ng program and environment,” he added.
When asked about his transition from UE to Benilde, he answered, “It was a smooth transition, nakakausap ko agad lahat, lalo na ‘yung coaches, ang dali kasi sobrang komportable ako sa environment ng team.”
Additionally, he also highlighted the culture in Benilde, saying, “Iba ‘yung culture sa Benilde compared sa UE, day by day, week by week, mas na-appreciate ko kung gaano kaganda ‘yung culture sa Benilde, kasi parang tinatanggap nila lahat, kung paano ka, kumbaga just be you.”
Head of the pack
The duties of team captain is something Cullar passionately held onto, it came to no surprise that even coach Charles Tiu called him the heart and soul of the team. Appointed as team captain upon his transfer in 2019, Cullar mentioned, “Never pa ako naglaro sa NCAA for Benilde no’ng ginawa akong team captain ni Coach Ty Tang, although ‘di pa talaga ako sigurado that time kasi sobrang bago pa ako sa team, pero pinagkatiwalaan ako ni Coach Ty.”
Despite being a transferee, Cullar boldly took on the challenge to lead the team during his tenure as the team captain. He displayed his leadership on and off the court and is one of the key pieces of the men’s basketball team’s success in recent years.
After a heartbreaking Season 97, the Benilde Blazers were determined to continue where they left off last season. After an impressive pre-season, the Benilde Blazers were a team to be reckoned with in Season 98.
Despite the low numbers, Cullar impacted the team more than the scoring; he was one of the team’s best on-ball defenders and was second in the league in assists per game. Through his leadership, the team returned to the final-four stage and the finals, an accomplishment Benilde last achieved two decades ago.
Although the ultimate goal of bringing back the championship to Taft fell short after surrendering to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights, Cullar is still proud of what they accomplished. “Proud pa [rin] ako sa journey namin at kung ano ‘yung na-achieve namin as a whole, kung ano ‘yung naging improvements namin in this difficult year, so looking back, proud pa rin ako sa team namin, and I am excited for the future of the team and my teammates.”
Basketball does not end in college; the goal for most is to make it pro, which is exactly what Cullar did. He has now taken his talents to the pro level playing for the Pampanga Royce in the Pilipinas Super League. When asked what factors led to him turning pro and why specifically at the PSL, he answered, “Within the NCAA Season, kinukuha na nila kami (Pampanga Royce), and siguro dahil team rin siya ni boss Frank Lao, who is one of our bosses in Benilde, so the transition to the PSL was easy.”
Cullar also noted that familiarity with the players was also a factor, as he is joined by fellow former and current NCAA players Renzo Navarro, Allen Liwag, JB Bahio, Cade Flores, and Ken Villapando. NCAA Season 98 MVP and fellow Benildean Will Gozum and sharp shooting Miguel Oczon are also included in the team’s roster. Notable UAAP players, such as Ateneo standouts Raffy Verano, Jolo Mendoza, and BJ Andrade are also part of the lineup.
Cullar dropped two points, three assists, and four rebounds alongside a block and a steal in his debut game against the 1Munti Emeralds.
Cullar took the time to thank both coaches, Tang and Tiu, saying, “Both coaches are great human beings. They are here to lead young guys and young men to become better persons before better players… Dahil sa kanila na-build nila ‘yung character ko on and off the court, and how to become a professional player.”
He also shared a message to his former teammates, “I hope ituloy niyo ‘yung binuo natin the past years, no matter what the result of next season will be, make sure to enjoy the journey, the days you spend together, the training, mga kulitan, all of it. All of that will never come back and those moments are priceless.”
The former captain also shared words of wisdom to his successor and new team captain Robi Nayve, saying, “Embrace the challenge lang, embrace the role as the captain, although I'll be here to guide you naman pero once you embrace the challenge mas magiging madali [na] and the team will succeed.”
From a scorned Red Warrior to a fiery Benilde Blazer, Cullar has become a better player, a better leader, and, most importantly, a better person. He impacted the team more than what the numbers show. Cullar has established a culture of leadership that future Benilde Blazers will forever uphold. He has shown that, even in the face of adversity, a larger goal is attainable through hard work and dedication.
Despite concluding his collegiate career without a championship, his name will forever be marked as the heart and soul of the Benilde Blazers.