A big buzz of excitement was considerably felt by Lyceum faithful early this month when highly-touted wingman CJ Perez decided to reunite with Pirates mentor Topex Robinson, his former coach at San Sebastian, that came on the heels of his failure to meet Ateneo’s academic cut for the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tourney.
The 6-foot-2 Perez, however, will have to undergo a one-year residency before he could finally suit up for Lyceum—and continue his collegiate basketball career—next year, leaving Robinson, 36, with no other choice but to squeeze the best from the current Pirates in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball wars.
Not being picked as one of the title favorites should serve as an added motivation for Lyceum, which opens its campaign against Emilio Aguinaldo College on Sunday at The Arena in San Juan.
“Actually I challenge the players and I told them that nobody is considering us as one of the contenders. Let that be (a) constructive (criticism) and prove that they’re wrong,” Robinson told FOX Sports in a recent phone interview.
Now on his second year since replacing Bonnie Tan, Robinson added the Pirates should embrace—and thrive—on the underdogs’ role. “I’m confident we can win games because we will always be competitive. So I’d rather have that (mentality) than to be complacent. That’s basically what I like about our challenge right now,” he stressed.
While veteran guard Dexter Zamora has been dropped from the lineup, the Pirates will have to hope for a speedy recovery of reliable big man Joseph Gabayni, who has already been ruled out of the entire first round after figuring in a motorcycle crash.
“He’s our most solid big man so siya talaga ang pinakamalaking kulang sa amin,” said Robinson of the 6-foot-5 Gabayni, who averaged 11.85 points, 8.54 rebounds and 1.15 assists last year.
Tipped to carry the load for the Pirates are veteran Wilson Baltazar and Cameroonian rookie big man Mike Harry Nzeusseu, with Shaq Alanes, Edcor Marata, Allyn Malabanan, Johann Rubite and Jebb Bulawan out to provide the needed support.
“Everybody’s contribution will be appreciated at this point,” said Robinson, adding the Pirates are setting their sights on making it to the Finals—and hopefully all the way to their breakthrough NCAA crown.
“Of course you want to make it to the Final Four and win the championship. Everybody wants to be in the finals and we always think about of playing in the finals. Iba ‘yung experience of being in the finals and that’s where you will be made,” said Robinson, a member of the Golden Stags’ last championship squad during their historic ‘five-peat’ in the 90s.
“I always cherish that experience and I want my players to have that experience too,” he added.
Up against an unpredictable Generals squad, Robinson said he’s just focused on keeping the Pirates ready collectively.
“At this point, I tell them to focus on what we have control of. We don’t have control of what EAC will bring. But we have control on our own preparations. ‘Yun yung lagi kong nire-remind sa kanila,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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