MANILA, Philippines -- CJ Perez more than lived up to the hype in his rookie season in the PBA with Columbian Dyip.
The Dyip selected Perez out of Lyceum of the Philippines University as the top overall pick in the 2018 PBA Rookie Draft, with the intent of making him the cornerstone of their franchise. He immediately made an impact, scoring 26 points in his first PBA game to lead Columbian to a 124-118 upset of San Miguel Beer.
The 26-year-old emerged as the league's scoring champion in his first year, averaging 20.8 points per game. He made it to the Mythical Five, the All-Defensive Team, and was the runaway winner of the Rookie of the Year award.
Speaking to Rain or Shine's Beau Belga in an "eat at home" episode of "Extra Rice," Perez credited his teammates and coaches for his sensational rookie season.
"Siguro sa mga teammates ko lang din," said Perez. "Kasi noong maganda-ganda 'yung mga nilalaro namin, medyo napapansin 'yung Columbian."
"Siyempre 'pag No. 1 pick ka, sabi 'yung pressure na sa 'yo. Pero 'yung tulong naman ng mga coaches, 'yung kumpyansang binigay sa akin, sobrang taas kasi," he further explained.
"At saka siyempre, malaking bagay 'yung binibigay nila coach na playing time. Kaya nakarating ako sa ganoong bagay na blessing talaga sa career ko 'yun."
Having collected several individual awards after just his first professional season, all of Perez's focus is now on helping the Dyip make it to the playoffs.
For all of Perez's individual brilliance, the Dyip were unable to make it to the playoffs in any of the league's three conferences last year -- the only team in the league to fail to do so. Their overall record in the season was 11-22.
"Ang iniisip ko nga, paano ko isu-sustain 'yung mga ginawa ko last season. 'Yun ang challenge sa akin talaga na iniisip ko, kung paano ko ma-sustain. Kung paano ko matutulungan 'yung Columbian Dyip sa playoffs talaga," said Perez.
For Perez, making the playoffs has been his top goal ever since the Dyip took him first overall.
"'Yun ang pinapangarap namin nila coach, ng mga teammates ko," he said.
This is why the former NCAA Most Valuable Player is disappointed that the league had to stop all activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, before they can even play a single game.
He had been optimistic about their season after seeing their team at practice, and they had also been looking forward to seeing how Roosevelt Adams can help the squad after he was taken by Columbian in the 2019 Rookie Draft.
"Kung natuloy lang 'yung PBA ngayon, parang feeling ko lang, feeling ko lang maganda ang ilalaro namin sa season na 'to, sa conference sana," said Perez.
"Pero okay lang, kasi kailangan natin maging safe," he added.
Watch more of Belga and Perez's conversation here:
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).