A conversation with and about Ateneo’s CJ Perez
by rick olivares pic by arvin lim
While the Ateneo-Letran match yesterday, Thursday, May 26, isn’t CJ Perez’ first for the Blue Eagles as he has played for them in Team B while serving his residency, it is his first in a tourney that is considered one of the biggest outside the mainsteam UAAP/NCAA and Champions League what with the drums, bigger media attention, television coverage, and others.
Besides, this is where Manila audiences first got their glimpse of him when he played for San Sebastian three years ago.
While playing for Ateneo Team B, he led the Blue Eagles to a Got Skills and Fr. Martin’s Cup championship. Being a recruit, he knows expectations are high.
Perez arrived a few minutes before the Blue Eagles ran out to the court for their warm-ups after having hurdled some academic concerns. Even with not much preparation, the 6’1” forward gave a good account of himself in a mere 12 minutes of play with 8 points, 8 rebounds (four off the offensive glass), and 1 assist.
Following the 66-53 win, Ateneo coach Sandy Arespacochaga pronounced himself “happy” with Perez’ performance considering his — and his teammates - long 20-day layoff as it was the university’s final examination period.
Rick: The Blue Eagles had control of the game from the start against Letran. Clearly, the crowd was waiting for you to enter the game. You looked rusty but were still effective. Your thoughts?
CJ: Yeah. It was only yesterday where I got to practice with the team again. I was out concentrating on my studies — not an easy thing. So there was some gigil coming on to the court. There were moments when I wanted to push it and also moments where I pulled back to work within the system.
Rick: Do you feel like there is pressure on you to help or even carry this team?
CJ: There is! Maybe it’s the pre-season so I don’t feel it too much but I am sure come UAAP, it will grow. I think any time you play for a big school especially for Ateneo, there will always be pressure. Anyone who is recruited by Ateneo will feel the pressure. However, my teammates, coaches, and management have been supportive. I hope that I can handle it well.
Rick: Okay, in spite of the pressure and expectations, how do you feel about wearing the blue and white?
CJ: Am excited! I never thought I’d play here all my life. Never thought about it my dreams or even any thought. When they recruited me, my first thought was, ‘Is this for real? Me? Ayos!’ But this is a big chance for me.
Rick: Obviously, the system is different from the run and gun style you played in San Sebastian. How are you adjusting to that?
CJ: Not easy. But not only for me but also for the rest of the team. It’s good to be under Coach Tab because it is a pro-style offense and it prepares you also for the next stage. Hopefully, I get to play in the PBA. But that’s not right now. Right now, it’s playing for Ateneo. But it’s an adjustment.
After talking to CJ, we spoke with Letran’s McJour Luib who faced Perez when he was in San Sebastian.
Rick: What do you think of CJ Perez’ Filoil debut for Ateneo?
Luib: Not yet the Perez that we know and what he can do. Maybe there’s a period of adjustment. But if they know how to use his talents, he will be a big asset for them.
Rick: What do you think he brings to the Blue Eagles?
Luib: Athleticism, speed… when he went for the offensive rebound and lay up (off a missed Hubert Cani triple)? He came from the left wing, grabbed an offensive rebound, and put it back in! (Ateneo’s Chibueze Ikeh and GBoy Babilonia and Letran’s Rey Nambatac, JP Calvo, Jom Sollano, and Felix Apreku were all inside the lane at that point but Perez still got the rebound).