ROBERT Bolick and CJ Perez were neither friends nor enemies when they were on opposite sides during their college wars in the NCAA.
Now, the two have grown closer as part of Gilas Pilipinas.
After their collision in college with Bolick leading San Beda and Perez spearheading Lyceum, the two have become inseparable after weeks together in the Philippine national pool for the Fiba Basketball World Cup.
The two eventually made it to the final roster and will get the chance to play against the best players of the world in the Fiba Basketball World Cup.
“Masarap kasi magkalaban kami sa finals, rivalry tingin sa aming dalawa,” said Bolick.
The two actually had more similarities than they previously cared to acknowledge. Both had foreign blood: Perez's dad is Nigerian, Bolick's is American. The two also found new homes in the NCAA after leaving major UAAP schools.
However, Bolick admitted he never had any relationship with Perez during their college days, perhaps because they were playing against each other so often with so much at stake, whether a championship or playoff seeding.
The two PBA rookies, though, have since developed a closer bond especially as they vied for a spot in the Final 12 against more senior players.
“Roommate kami sa All-Star, roommate kami sa Spain. We talked a lot. Minsan nag-iinuman kaming dalawa, nag-uusap lang kaming dalawa,” said Bolick.
Perez said they ceased to treat each other as rivals.
“Roommate ko ‘yan eh. All-Star hanggang Spain kaya ‘yung bonding namin gumaganda. Kahit na pinagra-rivalry mo kami sa NCAA pero hindi eh.
Bolick and Perez, or San Beda and Lyceum for that matter, weren’t exactly heated rivals compared to that between San Beda and Letran that the NCAA has been known for several decades.
The two faced each other in the last two NCAA finals with San Beda winning over Lyceum both times. In 2017, the Pirates, led by Perez, went 18-0 in the elimination round only for Bolick’s San Beda to sweep the Pirates in the best-of-three affair.
The following year, Perez was suspended for Game One of the finals after applying for the PBA draft without the permission of the NCAA Management Committee. Bolick and the Red Lions went on to compelte another sweep of Perez’s Pirates.
Despite winning all their championship battles, Bolick said he respected Perez for the impact he made with the Pirates.
“Napunta lang sa akin ‘yung glory pero I’m not taking anything away from him. ‘Yung the way na pagpasok niya, history na binigay niya sa Lyceum. Undefeated. May experience lang kami nung panahon na ‘yun. Nagkakagulo-gulo lang nung suspension niya.”
Bolick and Perez crossed paths again in the PBA with Perez being picked first by Columbian and Bolick selected by NorthPort third overall in the 2019 draft.
With both teams playing well during the 2019 season, the two were picked as members of the Rookies squad that battled the Sophomores and Juniors team for the All-Star Weekend in Calasiao, Pangasinan.
The same solid play has brought them together once more with Gilas Pilipinas as they made a big impression on the coaching staff led by Yeng Guiao during their training camp in Spain.
Bolick said: “(Sabi ko) nandito na tayong dalawa, let’s just grab the opportunity, let’s play our hearts out.
“‘Yung connection namin, iba,” Perez said. “Iba ‘yung pag-uusap namin lalo na kapag magkasabay kami sa court. I’m so happy. Isang karangalan na makasama siya sa team.”
As the World Cup draws near, Bolick hopes he and Perez will be able to play together on the world stage.
“Alam ko naman laro ni CJ, alam naman niya laro ko. Sabi ko, kapag sabay kaming dalawa, let’s play like we are in college. Enjoy the game,” said Bolick.
“Proud na proud ako sa kanya. I’m sure ganun din siya sa akin. Ngayon, set aside na ‘yung past. Close na kami masyado ngayon,” he added.
Perez added: “Para sa akin, (‘yung bonding namin) magta-translate ‘yun sa court.”