MANILA, Philippines -- Following a rookie season for the ages, Terra Firma's CJ Perez wants to improve his intangibles in his second season in the PBA.
Perez, the top overall pick in the 2018 PBA Rookie Draft, emerged as one of the league's brightest young stars last season while playing for the Dyip. Though he was unable to lead his team to the playoffs, Perez's performances drew praise as he played beyond his years.
He averaged 20.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 steals per game, running away with the Rookie of the Year award and making it to the Mythical First Team and the All-Defensive First Team. He also became the first rookie since Eric Menk in 1999 to become the league's scoring champion.
The next leap for Perez to take is in his leadership -- something that head coach Johnedel Cardel has impressed upon the 26-year-old guard.
"'Yung sinasabi ni coach since dumating ako, na leadership," Perez said Sunday, when asked what he looks to improve on in his second year in the PBA during a media availability session at the Quest Hotel in the league's bubble in Clark, Pampanga.
He admits that it's not something that comes easy to him, especially as there are older, more veteran players in the Dyip squad.
"'Yun talagang mina-master ko talaga na mahirap master-in kasi kung ikaw bata, may mas matanda sa'yo, hindi mo mali-lead," he explained.
While Perez is undoubtedly Terra Firma's best and most productive player, they also have their share of veterans in Rashawn McCarthy, Aldrech Ramos, and Eric Camson.
As he learns to be more vocal in his leadership, Perez says he will first set an example to his teammates in the hopes that they will follow him.
"I think sa maipapakita ko sa team, kung maganda ang ilalaro ko at nirerespeto ko ang teammates ko, sila susunod," he said.
With Perez leading the way, and rookie Roosevelt Adams as his running mate in the backcourt, Terra Firma is looking to make a breakthrough appearance in the PBA playoffs.
Despite Perez's high-scoring ways, the team failed to advance to the quarterfinals in any of the three conferences last season, with a combined record of 11-22. The challenge will be even greater for them this year, as only one conference will be played due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"Sobrang mas gutom ako ngayon kasi 'yung pangarap namin makapag-playoff nila coach is parang nabitin," said Perez, as the Dyip was one of 10 teams that did not play a single game before league activities were halted in March due to the global health crisis.
"'Yun ang nasa utak namin. Kaya stay positive lang ako," he added.
The Dyip will open their campaign on Tuesday against the TNT Tropang Giga at the Angeles University Foundation Gym.