When CJ Perez returned for Game 2 of the NCAA finals after serving a one-game suspension, he was hoping to extend the best-of-three series to a rubber match.
Unfortunately for Perez and the Lyceum Pirates, the San Beda Red Lions dominated anew to complete their quest for a three-peat championship.
"I have no regrets as long as we gave our very best," he said after delivering 19 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the loss. "They are the better team so there's no regret that we lost today. My basketball journey does not end here."
The 6-foot-3 forward missed Game 1 of the title series for failing to inform the league of his PBA draft intentions. The suspension also cost him spots on the Mythical Team and the All-Defense Team, but he refused to dwell on these unfortunate circumstances.
Despite failing to take home any trophy, Perez was just grateful for the opportunity to be a vital part of the Pirates' story for the last two years.
"It's a wonderful journey for us especially for me because I was able to play for Lyceum," he said in Filipino. "It's an honor that I played for LPU and that we reached the finals. I'm very happy that I became part of the LPU team."
Perez's collegiate career was a roller-coaster of sorts. He started seeing action for San Sebastian before transferring to Ateneo, where he never got to suit up due to academic issues. He considers it a blessing that he got another opportunity to play, thanks to Lyceum and coach Topex Robinson.
In return, Perez gave his all for the team, leading them to back-to-back finals appearances, including an impressive elimination round sweep last season. They fought valiantly but ended up getting swept by the more experienced Red Lions in the championship stage for two straight years.
"We learned as individuals and players, and the coaches also learned for sure," Perez said about their bridesmaid finishes. "We need to move on again because that's all we can do instead of regretting it. We lost again and we can't do anything about it."
No matter the result, Perez has definitely been instrumental in reviving the Lyceum program and turning the Pirates into legit contenders. He helped build a winning culture, and now that he's about to graduate, he believes that the team would still be in good hands.
"The legacy of the culture that we built since I arrived with the twins (Jayvee and Jaycee Marcelino), Ralph Tansingco, and the rest of the new recruits before - the legacy that when you say Lyceum, we know how to fight," Perez said on how he wants to be remembered by the community.
"I believe in the coach and the coaching staff and the upcoming players. We're not the only team that's going to lose key players," he added. "The other teams will also lose players so it's just the same. I trust them because I can see the effort of the new players in practice, they're really competing for their slot. So I'm so excited for the next chapters of Lyceum."
As for his own chapter, an exciting future also awaits Perez, who's a lock in the top three of the upcoming PBA rookie draft. Columbian Dyip even expressed their intentions to get him as the first overall pick.
"I'm very happy that I can be the number one pick but [I'm okay with] any team in the PBA, as long as I can reach my dream," said Perez. "All basketball players dream of entering the PBA. Right now, I'm just thinking of moving on to the next chapter of my basketball career and my life."