Perez arrival boosts Beermen, but Austria believes being at San Miguel will also benefit former ROY

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CJ Perez (No. 7) is being shipped to San Miguel Beer in exchange for three players, including big man Russel Escoto (left), and the Beermen’s first-round pick in this year’s Rookie Draft. —PHOTO COURTESY OF PBA IMAGES

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Leo Austria has seen CJ Perez in action—as his player at San Miguel Beer and not on the opposite end of the floor where he was the Beermen’s defensive problem—and readily concluded two things that will come the way of the former PBA Rookie of the Year (ROY) when the league’s 46th Season opens April 9.

“He will help us a lot,” Austria said over the phone on Wednesday night in between deep breaths while doing his early evening walk around his village. “But I assure you, the game will also be a lot easier for him because he won’t have to do everything (at San Miguel).”

Perez came to the Beermen more than a month ago in a blockbuster trade with Terrafirma and made San Miguel an even more formidable crew.

“It won’t be that hard for him anymore,” Austria went on as he enumerated on the things Perez needed to do with the Dyip, where he had minimal help. “[At San Miguel] he will have a lot of help. His teammates here can make him even better and he can return the favor by also making his teammates better.”

Dethroned

The Beermen were dethroned as kings of the Philippine Cup after a five-year reign when sister team Barangay Ginebra triumphed in the bubble in Clark last year. And Austria believes, that even with Perez joining the likes of June Mar Fajardo, Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter and Chris Ross, it will still be an uphill battle if San Miguel is to regain lost glory.

“All of the teams have improved, from coaching changes to player deals and additions,” Austria said. “There’s no such thing as a sure-ball in this league.”

Austria also said that the 6-foot-10 Fajardo has started working out and doing 100 percent weight-bearing exercises and that he is expecting the reigning six-time most valuable player to be able to see action when the league fires off next month with the Philippine Cup.

The Beermen are doing group practices without scrimmages as of the moment because of health restrictions, and that is where he first saw Perez work out. And Austria can feel that his players are ready and raring to go once the league gets the go-signal from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to plunge into full workouts.

“June Mar is working out almost everyday and we are continuing to monitor his progress,” the eight-time champion coach said. “He’s doing pretty well and I am confident that he will be there with us come April 9.”

Draft woes

Meanwhile, the PBA Draft pool believed by many to be the deepest in recent years could turn out to be a little shallower come Friday with 10 Filipino prospects with foreign blood yet to get—and not expected to secure—their respective clearances to be eligible, counting sure first-round choices Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser, Jason Brickman and Jeremiah Gray.

A check with the league’s Commissioner’s Office on Wednesday night put 21 prospects on the clear, including 6-foot-10 ex-La Salle center Santi Santillan and consensus No. 1 choice Joshua Munzon, the 6-foot-4 3×3 star whom the Dyip plans rebuild around.

“The coming conference will be very interesting,” Austria concluded.

Ganuelas-Rosser, Brickman and Gray are potential impact players who could turn lowly franchises around and their failures to get their Bureau of Immigration recognition and Department of Justice affirmations could set back plans of some of the teams hoping to land great talent in the March 14 Draft.

In a related development, the league’s board will meet face-to-face for three days from Monday to discuss the league’s plans for the year. That session will be held in the country for the first time in more than a decade because of the COVID-19 pandemic that prevented the board from traveling outside of the country.


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