By Jerome Lagunzad
Lyceum star CJ Perez’s dedication and hardwork are bound to be rewarded with the highest individual award in the NCAA seniors basketball tournament.
The 6-foot-2 Perez has put himself right on track to clinch the coveted MVP award after powering the Pirates to an unprecedented 18-game sweep of the elimination round and an outright finals berth.
The prolific Fil-Nigerian guard, who will turn 24 on Nov. 17, emerged as the league’s top scorer with 19.3 points on top of 6.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.9 steals – another league-best — in the course of Lyceum’s unstoppable drive to the top.
With Perpetual Help’s Nigerian center Prince Eze, the frontrunner after the first round, already out of contention following the Altas’ failed bid to reach the Final Four round, the stage is practically set for Perez’s coronation as the league’s newest king.
But the proud Bautista, Pangasinan native, a former castoff from UAAP powerhouse Ateneo, is in no rush to soak it all up.
“Ang iniisip lang talaga namin, ‘yung ma-inspire namin ang ibang tao, ‘yung mga nakakapanood sa amin,” he said.
Of course, Perez won’t realize his true potential without the guidance of Lyceum coach Topex Robinson, who also served as his mentor during their productive stint at San Sebastian four years ago.
“‘Yung trust kasi na binibigay sa akin ni coach, sobra-sobra talaga,” he said. “Tinutulungan niya pa rin ako, pinu-push pa rin niya ako kung paano ang gagawin ko. Siya talaga ‘yung nagmo-motivate sa akin.”
Lyceum center Mike Nzeusseu, good for 11.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, appears to be one of Perez’s main rivals in the MVP race. But that’s the least of the Cameroonian’s concerns.
“We don’t think about that. We just play and then whoever is MVP, is the MVP,” stressed Nzeusseu. “We don’t care about individual trophies. We care about the team and the vision which is to inspire others. Winning a (MVP) trophy is just the result of our vision.”
Robinson could not help but be pleased with the way the Pirates are embracing their fine culture.
“We don’t have the money like the other big (school) programs. But what we have is people who are committed to winning,” he said.