CJ Perez is feeling all sorts of emotions now that he’s about to realize his dream of playing in the PBA Finals, with San Miguel vying for the Philippine Cup crown.
The former no. 1 pick has never been to the Big Dance until the Beermen forged a title bout versus reigning champs TNT. This is also a chance for the ball club to reclaim glory in the conference it once lorded over for five straight seasons.
“Nine-nerbiyos sa first Finals appearance ko,” he said in between chuckles shortly after the pre-Fnals presser, Friday at Novotel Araneta. “Grateful na nakarating ako rito. Kung hindi ako kinuha ng San Miguel, siguro wala ako rito.”
This Finals trip marks yet another personal milestone for Perez. He’d previously failed to experience any playoff success during his tenure with Terrafirma.
He never had any serious chance of getting past the elimination round when he was still with the team that made him the top selection in 2018. Thus, the elation on his part to finally see his fortunes change upon arriving at SMB.
The combo guard reached the Philippine Cup semis in just his first conference wearing the red and black, and has since been at least in the quarters. Now, he’s off to the championship round in what has been a solid ride thus far.
Still, the NCAA MVP out of Lyceum is thankful for Terrafirna. He said that his three years there made him believe he can compete in the PBA.
“Sobrang grateful naman ako na nakapaglaro ako roon kasi kung hindi dahil sa Terrafirma, wala siguro akong kumpiyansa maglaro dito sa PBA,” he said.
Perez couldn’t help but look back on the journey he’s had. He has won Rookie of the Year honors and back-to-back scoring titles, as well as two Mythical Team selections and an All-Defensive nod.
“Mas naging pasensyoso ako sa laro ko ngayon. Hindi na masyadong nagmamadali. Dati 100 kilometers per hour, ngayon 50 na lang,” he quipped.
“‘Yun yung natutunan ko rito sa San Miguel e. Hindi ko kailangang laging mabilis, hindi kailangang mag-takeover. Mga teammates ko may tiwala naman sa’kin, and may tiwala rin ako sa kanila,” added the 28-year-old.
Now, he hopes to make the most out of this Finals appearance by winning a championship, which is the very same goal of the newer Beermen in a bid to build their own legacy after the ‘Death Five’ era.
But Perez is under no illusion that it is an easy task to accomplish, since they will have to go through the same team that beat them in the last All-Filipino semis.
“Dadagdagan namin ‘yung effort and pagiging aggressive on offense and defense,” said the former Gilas Pilipinas guard, who’s among the frontrunners for the coveted Best Player of the Conference award.
“‘Yun ‘yung kailangan namin dagdagan kasi, ‘yun nga, talented nga raw ‘yung team namin pero kailangan namin maglaro together para mas mapadali or mas may chance kami manalo ng championship,” he added.
The second game of each PBA gameday is live-streamed on SMART Sports.