MANILA, Philippines -- Having already proven to be an elite player in the full-court version of basketball, CJ Perez is now looking to conquer the 3x3 court.
Perez, at just 27 years old, has already won two scoring titles in the PBA and is a mainstay of Gilas Pilipinas, having played for the country in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.
He will represent the country in another way on May 26-30 when he, Mo Tautuaa, Joshua Munzon, and Alvin Pasaol compete in the 2021 FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Graz, Austria.
Perez, together with Tautuaa, was part of the 3x3 team that won gold in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, but he is aware that the teams they will face in the FIBA 3x3 OQT are on a different level than their competition in San Juan two years ago.
"Parang dun mo mararamdaman 'yung sobrang pisikal na 3x3," said Perez. "'Yun 'yung nakikita namin sa mga scouting videos namin. Hindi ganun ka-fancy pero nakakagawa sila ng paraan. Mukang matitigas talaga yung katawan ng kalaban."
"'Yun 'yung challenge sa amin, kung paano makakasabay sa kanila," he added.
For Perez, their recent seven-day camp at the Inspire Sports Academy was crucial as the other members of the Gilas 3x3 pool were able to brief him and Tautuaa on what to expect in the OQT. Karl Dehesa and Santi Santillan were both at the Inspire facility to help the team in their preparations.
"Kailangan ko pa matutunan 'yung larong 3x3 lalo na nandun sila Josh," Perez said. "Sila 'yung beterano sa 3x3 at halos lahat ng nakalaban namin, nakalaban na nila. Kabisado na nila paano laruin 3x3 at labanan dun sa pro circuit.
"May tips din sila binibigay kay Coach Ronnie (Magsanoc) kasi kahit alam ni Coach Ronnie ang 3x3, iba pa rin 'yung world stage. Sila Karl at Josh talaga malaking natutulong sa amin," he added.
The Philippines is bracketed in Pool C along with Slovenia, France, Qatar, and the Dominican Republic.
The Slovenians will be composed of club team Piran, a team that has tussled with the Filipinos numerous times in the pro circuit. Same with Qatar, who will have Erfan Ali Saeed, Abdulrahman Saad, Nedim Muslic, and Seydou Ndoye.
Munzon and Pasaol, along with Dehesa and Santillan, have also seen France's Charly Pontens during the 2019 Poitiers Challenger and Raphael Wilson during the 2019 Jeddah Masters.
The Gilas 3x3 pool will return to Inspire on Friday to wrap up their camp before leaving for Austria.
Perez, having already competed at the world stage in 5-on-5, vows to do all he can so that he can also play at the highest level in 3x3.
"Kailangan ko i-maximize 'yung mga ganitong opportunity sa buhay ko, lalo ito Olympics na ang usapan. Kahit ganito kaaga, nabibigay na sa akin 'yung ganitong opportunity kaya igra-grab ko siya," he said.
"Madaming player ang nangangarap na maglaro sa Gilas kaya sobrang grateful ako na binibigyan ako ng ganitong chance ng Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas at nila Boss Al [Panlilio]."
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