MANILA, Philippines -- CJ Perez has been working well with his new teammates at San Miguel Beer, but head coach Leo Austria warned that there is no guarantee he will break into their starting unit.
The Beermen acquired Perez in a blockbuster trade in early February, with TerraFirma receiving San Miguel's first-round pick in the upcoming draft in exchange, along with the rights to Russel Escoto, Matt Ganuelas-Rosseer, and Gelo Alolino.
"So far, so good," Austria said of Perez, who has been training with the Beermen for a little over two weeks.
"Nakakatuwa, dahil pagdating niya sa court, very observant, tinitingnan ang mangyayari. And sa mga drills na ginagawa namin, napaka-dali para sa kanya na makuha," he added.
Austria was all praises for Perez's off-court demeanor as well, noting that the former Rookie of the Year has been getting along well with his new teammates.
In San Miguel, Perez joins a loaded team that features six-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, former scoring champion Terrence Romeo, and a veteran core that includes Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, and Chris Ross.
Given the depth and talent of their roster, Austria said even a player of Perez's caliber isn't assured of a starting spot.
"I think that's always the question if ever na magkakaroon kami ng new player, especially iba 'yung pedigree ng mga bata, ganyan. Dahil ang iniisip nila, punong-puno ng talented players, nag-aagawan ito sa starting five," said Austria.
"I think, just like what happened to Terrence, pagdating niya, 'yung first conference niya sa amin, he never started," he pointed out.
"He has to earn his slot," Austria said of Perez.
Even if he doesn't start, Austria has no doubt that Perez will make an immediate impact for San Miguel. He compared the situation to what happened with Romeo, who helped the Beermen win two championships in his first season with the squad, and emerged as Finals MVP of the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup.
Romeo, a three-time scoring champion before joining San Miguel, averaged just 23.6 minutes per game in his first season with the Beermen, and his 12.0 points per game average was the lowest of his career.
"The kinds of CJ and Terrence Romeo, anytime pwede sila mapunta sa (starting unit), as long as alam na nila lahat 'yung ginagawa nung team," Austria explained. "Dahil matagal ng magkakasama itong mga teammate nila, alam na nila 'yung in and outs of the game eh."
"But I'm sure na CJ will be a very important part of our group," he added.
In his first two seasons in the PBA, Perez averaged 21.7 points per game, along with 7.25 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest. He also played nearly 38 minutes per game in his two seasons with TerraFirma Dyip, while starting in every game.
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