BEST OF 5 Part 4: LPU can thank cellphones for all of this
CAN BE REACHED. CJ Perez and Marcelino twins Jaycee and Jayvee allowed the LPU Pirates to complete their puzzle.
Read Part 1 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the LPU Pirates here.
Read Part 2 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the LPU Pirates here.
Read Part 3 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the LPU Pirates here.
Topex Robinson has laid the groundwork, and it was finally time to build something in Lyceum of the Philippines University.
Just like he had off-court, the always amiable mentor also had grand plans on-court for the Pirates.
Having a plan is different from getting it done, however.
“It was hard. I already had a vision of what I wanted my team to be and I made sure I articulated my vision,” he shared. “Obviously, getting people wasn’t easy, but if they know that you’re going to a direction, you would attract those people who shared my vision.”
And so, slowly but surely, Robinson’s staff was being filled by the likes of Rommel Adducul, a former big-time professional player, and Jeff Perlas, a highly-esteemed assistant in coaching circles.
In terms of players, however, still nothing much was going for the Intramuros-based squad.
Until one phone call.
Robinson personally fetched CJ Perez from Ateneo de Manila University after the latter learned that his academic deficiencies would force him to sit out the season.
Earlier that day, Perez called Robinson and told him all that was happening. Right then and there, the former had an offer for the latter.
“When CJ left Ateneo, I gave him an opportunity with us, pero ang sabi ko, ‘You can go to any team.’ He said he wanted to play for me,” the head coach said. “I said, ‘Are you sure? Because all of the collegiate teams are gonna get you and gonna offer you anything you want.’ But he committed to us and I appreciate the trust he gave me.”
Indeed, LPU had one advantage all others didn’t – Robinson had long been a father figure to Perez as the two were formerly the faces of San Sebastian College-Recoletos for two years.
“Isang beses, pinaisip (ni coach Topex) sa amin yung heroes namin tapos napapatingin ako sa kanya. Siya yung iniisip kong hero kasi yung trust na binibigay niya sa akin, sobra-sobrang trust,” the now 23-year-old tantalizing talent shared. “Tinutulungan niya ako, pinu-push niya ako kahit anong magyari. Siya talaga ang nagmo-motivate sa akin.”
And so, Perez became a Pirate – without a doubt, the biggest get in the history of their basketball program.
However great he is, however, he is just one man.
“Obviously, who would love to have a CJ Perez on the team, but again, CJ is just a part of the puzzle. He’s not the whole equation,” Robinson said. “Yes, CJ could win us games, but he could also lose games. People are tagging us as CJ’s team, but it’s very important to get everybody on the same page.”
Indeed, Perez becoming a Pirate is not the rule, but an exception to the rule.
As history has proven, Intramuros was not a dream destination for youngsters – be it LPU, be it Colegio de San Juan de Letran, be it Mapua University.
And so, the LPU head coach tried to work with whatever he had. “You accept the fact that you will not get the blue-chip players. What you’re really looking for are players who are driven,” he shared.
He then continued, “The skill, we could work on that. The character, yung may chip on the shoulder, yun yung kailangan namin.”
In other words, he looked for a player like Topex Robinson. “That’s basically how I was as a basketball player. My PBA career, I knew I was not gifted and I knew I had to survive. Pretty much, I was looking for players I could see myself in,” he said.
JOIN THE CLUB
Fortunately, there were many places to find treasure.
And even better, sometimes, treasure comes to find you.
Another phone call came – and getting shipped to the Pirates were two talents who would prove to be the perfect pieces for what they wanted to do.
“Bago kami sa LPU, galing kaming Adamson. Nung nagbago na yung coach, tumawag na kami kay coach Topex kung pwede niya kaming matulungan,” Jaycee Marcelino narrated.
He was referring to the regime change for the Soaring Falcons in 2016 which saw Franz Pumaren take over for Mike Fermin.
And for them, it was only their kababayan in Robinson whom they trusted to continue harnessing their potential. “Magkakilala po kami ni coach kasi magkababayan kami. Humingi kami ng tulong para makapaglaro pa rin kami sa pangarap naming liga,” Jayvee, the twin, shared.
Robinson and the Marcelinos all hail from Olongapo in Zambalaes.
And so, the twins became Pirates – without a doubt, one of the biggest steals in college basketball in recent history.
X MARKS THE SPOT
And now, Topex Robinson has a crew full of Topex Robinsons.
From Perez to the Marcelinos, from glue guy MJ Ayaay to National University outcasts Kim Cinco and Ralph Tansingco, and from forgotten foreign student-athlete Mike Nzeusseu to underrated Reymar Caduyac, all of LPU has something to prove.
Whether or not that would be enough to win a championship is not yet certain.
What is certain now is that Robinson has a Pirate crew completed in his vision – both on and off the court.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.