Looking back, CJ Perez isn’t supposed to be with Columbian Dyip.
Had the franchise, which had undergone several franchise changes and trades since its entry to the PBA in 2014, kept their original draft picks, then there’s a good chance that they wouldn’t have repeatedly landed in the bottom of the standings. In the process, Columbian wouldn’t have had the top draft pick in the 2018 Draft.
With that mind, imagine if the team’s supposed draftees Troy Rosario, and Christian Standhardinger, both of whom are now solid players for TNT and NorthPort, stayed in place. By no means would it have made Columbian a title-contender, but it’s not hard to imagine the Dyip fighting for a playoff spot in each conference given that the two would’ve served as the cornerstones for the franchise.
Yet, Columbian continued to become a perennial presence in the Draft, with the only thing going for them is the high probability that they land a superstar that would lead them to unprecedented success. The Dyip always had a choice: keep the pick or trade it way for peanuts. Fortunately, the management has somehow came into their senses and decided to keep their top selection in the 2018 PBA Draft.
There was no question that Perez was the obvious choice for the Dyip back then. From the get-go, he has had the makings of a franchise player. Primed and ready to roll as a professional. There were no learning curves, as the Pangasinan native is among those gifted few that are capable of contributing immediately to any PBA team that eventually drafted him.
Sure, there may be some other players coming out of college with more impressive resumes, but those players had to take a conference or even a season to adjust to the rigors of being a PBA player.
CJ Perez did not.
In a team deprived of a true superstar, or at least someone that could keep up with the loaded rosters of PBA powerhouses, it was Perez who immediately took on responsibility of being that franchise player for Columbian.
What significantly hlped him in this process of transitioning from amateur ball to the pros was that he wasn’t given any restrictions or limitations in his rookie year by coach John Cardel and the rest of the Dyip coaching staff. Instead, the team allowed CJ to continue his non-stop, all-out style of play.
With the ball in his hands constantly, it allowed him to carefully analyze and dissect the game at hand. Attack the cup? Settle for a midrange? Run a pick and roll? Kick out to the shooters? These are just some of the options that are programmed into the NCAA MVP. More often than not, he found success running plays he was so used to since his collegiate days.
More importantly, Perez is a player that is not afraid of the moment. Going up against some of Philippine Basketball’s best and, and even living legends may be too much for a some rookies. But CJ displayed steadiness and remained consistent with his game even against tough competition.
In his first PBA assignment, against the defending Philippine Cup champions, he dropped 24 in the second half to get the upset win. As early as then, he showed that he’s no regular rookie. Perez is a star.
He carried that attack mentality throughout the season and because of that he became the scoring champion, finishing with a 20.8 ppg average. In a league bannered by arguably this generation’s best player in June Mar Fajardo alongside a good number of veterans who are walking buckets themselves, it was the rookie that stood out. This feat serves as justification that he has what it takes to be a pillar for the franchise.
Although it may still take some time before the Dyip transform into a legitimate playoff team, letting Perez take over the team regardless of his age and experience, is the best option for the team at the moment. There may be more bumpy roads ahead for Columbian, but if Perez can stay aggressive and relentless, then their destination, which is to be a consistent Playoff contender, is closer than expected.