GRACIOUS for the longest time, Lyceum coach Topex Robinson couldn't hold his peace any longer as he came in defense of his main man CJ Perez, who was slapped with a one-game suspension that cost him Game One of the NCAA Season 94 Finals.
"The reason it's painful for us is because CJ didn't do anything wrong," he rued.
Perez was penalized for a game after failing to inform the league of his plans to enter the upcoming 2018 PBA Rookie Draft.
That violation forced the Pirates to sit out the do-it-all forward for the series opener, which also meant the team losing Perez' production of 18.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in their 73-60 loss to San Beda on Tuesday.
"It could've been a better Finals. It's no guarantee that we're going to win but you want your best player in the game. He deserves to be there," candidly said the youthful mentor.
If it was tough from the outside looking in, one could imagine more how difficult it was for Perez, who is on his final games of his collegiate career and is already bound to make the jump to the pro league.
"Obviously, mahirap sabihin sa bata na alam mong walang ginawa. Napakahirap i-explain sa kanya. The reason why it's frustrating is for the longest time that he's been with me, I don't think he deserves to be deprived from playing in the Finals. That's for me," he said.
Robinson also didn't hold back throwing some shade on the league's inaction on some issues, particularly with this season's hosts Perpetual which saw two of its transferees in Edgar Charcos and Kim Aurin who participated in "ligang labas" during their redshirt season last year.
"Hindi naman nag-ligang labas (si CJ). Kung nag-larong labas sana siya at nahuli, I would accept that. But I don't know. The kid didn't do anything wrong," he said.
Unlike Perez who was quickly handed down a penalty, the Altas escaped any sanctions, with the NCAA only "sternly reprimanding" them.
"I just hope there will be consistency. If there's players at fault, let them face it. Wag nilang itago yung mali at gagawan nila ng paraan. Yun lang sa akin," he said.
"That's just the way I feel. I'm speaking on my behalf, not of the school. I'm speaking as a father to a son that lost an opportunity to play in the Finals. If they're gonna hate me, so be it," he said. "But I'm speaking here, not as a coach of LPU but as a father to CJ and I just feel the pain he has to go through. He's there helplessly watching the game from wherever. Kung may ginawa sanang mali eh, kung nag-drugs sana yan o gumawa ng kalokohan. I don't know how you call it but life is really unfair."
Lyceum had the option to pursue a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the court that would've allowed Perez to play in Game One, the same way San Beda did with Yousif Aljamal back in 2007.
Robinson, however, felt that chasing one is already beside the point as his role as the team's head coach is to make the team competitive, no matter who the players there are on the bench.
"Me personally, I'm here to coach the team. I'm here to really make sure that the boys are ready. We're all about doing the right thing," he said. "Kumbaga, if those are the rules, it has to be the rules. Yun lang ako. Wag yung pabago-bago. Kung nagawa na yun dati, pinayagan at nagawan ng paraan, yun lang sana. I don't want to put the blame on whoever makes those rules. We're just here to follow them."
"Rules are rules. It's there, it's written in the rulebook. But rules are meant to be broken siguro. I don't know."
Robinson also asked what the league's main purpose is after this controversy, especially with the negative feedback it garnered from the public.
"This is for the kids eh. Our job as coaches is to give them an opportunity to be seen and have a better future. CJ's gonna have a kid soon and they just took away that dream to be in the Finals. He'll never have the chance again. That Game One will be lost forever," he said.
"That's why I wanna thank Chris Ross and coach Charles (Tiu) for speaking out on what they felt was right. Sa akin lang, if that's the right thing to do, let it be and not change it again. Hindi yung if somebody does something wrong, babaguhin ulit."
It's not often that Robinson speaks his mind out, but he's always been the type of guy who calls a spade a spade. That's why as much as he's seeking clarification on this dark chapter, he'd like everyone to come out better from this experience.
"I've always been quiet. I've always respected the league, but ano ba ang liga na ito, para sa ano o para sa bata? I just want to be clear on that because I play for my players," he said as he shifts his attention to Game Two, where Lyceum will try to extend the series to the distance on Monday.
"Tomorrow's a new day. We have a chance to bounce back. I'm so excited to have CJ there, not unless there's other things are gonna be there. But I hope in a week's time, we'll see him on Game Two," he said before lighting up the mood.
"I hope he doesn't enter the draft again."