THE chance to play alongside his basketball idol Calvin Abueva is the one other thing that excites CJ Perez in suiting up for Gilas Pilipinas’ Monday-only practice as it begins preparation for the resumption of its campaign in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
Perez has been vocal ever since that he has always looked up to Abueva as his favorite player that he tries to pattern his play – and even looks – after the enigmatic Alaska star, so much so he eventually earned the moniker ‘Baby Beast.’
Honored for the opportunity to be picked as part of the 23-man pool being considered for the 2023 FIBA World Cup here, Perez also sees the chance of finally getting to play together with Abueva even if it meant joining him at practice only.
He is a bit tentative for the comparison, though, to the man they called ‘The Beast.’
“Yung pag-compare nila sa akin kay Calvin, sobrang layo pa ng laro ko sa kanya,” he humbly said after showing up at the Gilas practice for the second straight week at the Meralco gym. “Idol ko talaga siya, pero kailangan ko munang makarating doon sa narating na niya. Sobrang experience na niya, e.”
Too bad, Abueva has yet to show up in the last two scrimmages of the national team where Perez was present.
But Perez, the reigning NCAA MVP out of Lyceum, doesn’t mind it especially since he’s been learning a lot just by watching and playing with the rest of the Gilas team.
He was actually just one of two players from the 23-man pool, along with first timer Abu Tratter, who attended Gilas’ second week of practice supervised by deputies Jong Uichico and Josh Reyes in the absence of head coach Chot Reyes.
“Kahit kanino naman maraming matututunan sa kanila,” Perez said.
Being named as part of the young 23-man pool being groomed for the national team five years from now actually came as a surprise for him.
“Hindi (ko inaasahan),” Perez admitted. “Nag-aabang din lang naman tayo na mapasama kasi sobrang dami rin naman ng mga players.”
Now that he’s given a shot of making the national team that will play before basketball-loving Filipinos in the World Cup, Perez said he’s already conditioning his mind and body to give his best in hopes of making the roster.
“Simula nung nagtawag sila ng practice, andun na yung utak ko,” he added. “Kailangan ko lang mag work hard pa para makapasok sa lineup kahit na malayo pa (ang tournament).”