WHEN Columbian coach Johnedel Cardel was informed by national coach Yeng Guiao that Dyip rookie CJ Perez would be invited to try out for Gilas, the former readily acquiesced.
"May laro kami sa Batangas (last June 23) at sabi ni coach Yeng, 'Hihiramin ko bata mo sa Gilas. Gusto ko siya. Siya ang future ng Gilas, lumalaban,'" related Cardel.
"Kaya ang sabi ko kina Boss Bob (Rosales), payagan natin, kasi first Columbian player na masasama sa national team," added Cardel.
Still, Cardel was among those who was pleasantly surprised when Perez has made an immediate impact for Gilas this big, this soon - and in the ongoing FIBA World Cup stage at that.
Perez has indeed been impressive in Gilas' first two games against Italy and Serbia, averaging a team-high 15.5 points on top of 1.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals while coming off the bench each time.
Making such a points-production by the former Lyceum star more notable is the fact the same norm has been posted by NBA veteran and current Sacramento Kings guard Cory Joseph, also in China as Canada's skipper.
In the process, the former Lyceum University of the Philippines star has shown coach Guiao's trust in him was well-founded.
And none could be happier than Cardel. "Sobrang saya dahil ang ganda talaga ng ipinapakita niya para sa bayan," said the tactician.
Of course, Cardel has an ulterior motive, knowing Perez will bring with him to Columbian the invaluable lessons he learned from his Worlds stint when the player returns to the Dyip for the PBA Governors Cup.
"Iyung kumpiyansa niya, experience na nakuha doon madadala nita dito," said Cardel.
"Kasi iyung maging national player ka malaking bagay sa psyche ng isang player, lalo pa ganyan, World Cup pa," added Cardel.
"Kaya 'yung expectations namin sa kanya, once na bumalik na siya dito sa Columbian, he'll be a much better player and one of the true leaders of this team."
Cardel, himself a former member of the Youth and Men's national teams in the late 1980's, has also continued advising the second pick overall in last year's PBA draft.
"Sabi ko sa kanya, 'Gawin mo lahat ang dapat mong gawin,'" offered Cardel, saying he has been in constant communication with his ward through Columbian's Viber group chats.
"Sabi ko rin, 'Don't mind the score, basta give your best, bigay ka ng energy sa team,'" added Cardel. "'And always, be a good teammate to your team, win or lose.'"
Based on Perez's performances so far, those words have not fallen on deaf ears. (NC)