Yes, Perez and the Lyceum Pirates came home empty handed in the NCAA Season 93, but when the dust has settled, the 23-year-old lived up to the hype that touted him as the future of Philippine basketball.
Forget being swept in the NCAA Finals by the gutsier and more poised San Beda Red Lions. Perez, who missed high-level, competitive basketball for three years, returned and showed little signs of rust.
His eye-popping averages—19.3 points per game, 6.5 boards, 3.6 assists and two steals—were enough for him to snatch the season Most Valuable Player award, playing head and shoulders above everyone most times.
He also the captained the ship which ran amok on everyone during the elimination round as the Lyceum Pirates won all their 18 games, often in destructive fashion.
Most of all, the Pangasinan native's biggest impact came inside of the Pirates' camp where he changed the culture from within, setting an example for his teammates to follow.
For all the struggles that he had to go through—the disappointment in losing a spot in Ateneo, the years in the fringe—Perez stayed resilient.
"Ito talaga yung chance na maipakita ko kung anong kaya kong gawin. Maswerte din ako dahil nabigyan ako ng chance para maipakita yun," said Perez. "Gagawin ko lang talaga lahat. Grab ko lahat ng opportunity na binibigay sakin," he added.
His impact on the court has caused headaches for opposing coaches and players throughout the season.
Longtime JRU Head Coach and PBA Legend Vergel Meneses says Perez impacts the game with his attitude and smarts.
"Nakita mo talaga siyang nagpapakamatay sa loob ng court," says the former PBA MVP turned collegiate coach. "Ngayon ganyan na siya kagaling, tapos makikita pa ng mga kakampi niya kung gaano siya ka-sipag sa court, gaganahan din sila magtrabaho."
For his finals tormentor, San Beda star guard Robert Bolick, what makes Perez special is his ability to create and make shots for himself. "Kita niyo naman, long threes, floaters, fade aways, he's just a really good player. You can't really stop him, you just have to force him to tough shots."
That's why Lyceum Head Coach Topex Robinson is just thankful that Perez considered reuniting with him in Lyceum so they can change the fortune of the team together.
"I'm just thankful and I will always be full of gratitude to him because he decided to go to Lyceum because we all know there are a lot of schools just waiting to get him," he said. "He's just a special player."
Though thankful of all the accolades, Perez believes he's just as good as where his coach takes him— and having a father figure like Robinson around means a lot to him.
"Hindi sa akin yun nag-umpisa," he asserts. "Siyempre, nagsimula yun sa coach, di ba? Nung nagpapanalo na kami, di kami bumibitaw sa isa't-isa. Di sa akin nag-umpisa, sa amin nag-umpisa yung culture."