For CJ Perez and Robert Bolick, losses should fuel future growth

CJ Perez shined while averaging fewer than 20 minutes of play during the FIBA World Cup. Dan Jung/ESPN

It is difficult to look back on the shambles of Gilas Pilipinas' campaign at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. The poor 3-point shooting, the porous defense, the lack of preparation -- there was little shine in their trip to China.

Despite the bleak results, there was a glimpse of Gilas' future when PBA rookies CJ Perez and Robert Bolick showed off on the world stage.

Perez and Bolick were the biggest surprises for the Philippines in a drab campaign. While naturalized forward Andray Blatche led the team in most statistical categories, the pair led the team in scoring among the Filipinos. Perez, despite not being a point guard in the PBA, led the team in assists (2.6 per game) among local players. Bolick was the team's best 3-point shooter (7-of-18 for 38.9%) on a team that was desperate for production from beyond the arc.

What makes their numbers even more impressive was how little time they logged. Perez averaged 19.3 minutes while Bolick notched just 14.2 minutes per game.

There were already glimpses that the young pair could shine when they traveled to Spain for Gilas' training camp. Perez was a revelation during the closed door friendlies in Guadalajara against Congo and Ivory Coast, while Bolick showcased his scoring against the same opponents in Malaga.

Fast forward to the World Cup, they were the lone bright spots in two of the heaviest losses of the Philippines in the competition's history. After their first loss to Italy, the duo's reaction went viral when pictures and videos showed that they were visibly distraught.

"I guess we lacked effort in this game," Perez said in Filipino after absorbing a crushing 46-point loss at the hands of Italy in the opening game. "But for us, we did our best."

"I have nothing to say," Bolick added in Filipino. "Bad trip."

Unfortunately for the pair, their words would be a recurring theme for the entirety of their stay in China.

With the veterans under performing, Perez and Bolick were responsible for most of the cheers from the Philippine fans in Foshan and Beijing. Their no fear attitude on the court won over fans from all over. Off the court, Bolick even continued to be defiant and tweeted out "We will win tonight" before losing to Tunisia.

While their attitude didn't nab wins, their approach left a mark on their teammates.

"All the younger guys just prove that it's special, man," Veteran Gabe Norwood said after Gilas' loss against Iran.

Norwood, who had been part of the national program since 2007, felt sorry that the young players weren't set up to succeed like the teams in the past.

"It's one of those things that the frustration sets in because they didn't get the same opportunity we got in 2014 (World Cup in Spain)," Norwood said. "It sucks that they were kind of thrown into this situation. But they handled it like pros, they handled it like vets."

Perez and Bolick are already favorites to headline Gilas Pilipinas when the Philippines host the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. While the 2019 experience is a bitter pill to swallow, Norwood urged all the young players not to forget the indignity of finishing last in China.

"Let the hurt, hurt," Norwood said. "Don't just brush it off like it wasn't nothing."

The last moment in the tournament for the Philippines saw them watch Iran celebrate wildly after sealing an Olympic berth. For Bolick in particular, that memory is seared in his mind.

"That thing that they (Iran) did, their jumping and everything, that's got to be a motivation," Bolick said. "For me especially, that's a motivation for me. That's not ever going to happen again."

"Feel the pain, suck it in," Bolick added.