As fourth seed San Miguel and fifth seed NorthPort open their 2021 PBA Philippine Cup best-of-three quarterfinals series on Sunday afternoon, two of their young stars rekindle a flame that has been burning for quite some time now.
For two seasons, CJ Perez and Robert Bolick went head-to-head in the NCAA, with both years seeing Bolick's San Beda Red Lions prevailing over Perez' Lyceum Pirates.
This time, it seems that the former Lyceum guard's side has the upper hand in terms of team depth, as the Beermen boast of a bevy of riches in terms of talent. Still, the ex-King Lion's team is not too far out - even though the Batang Pier are relatively inexperienced compared to their dynastic foes.
"Losing in the championship for two years was a burden because [Bolick] didn't give the title to me," laughingly recalled Perez in an interview with ESPN5.
"You know Bolick, he's such a competitive person, he gives his best every game. The heart and effort is always there...I am excited to face NorthPort and my teammates are excited for the playoffs, but I am much more excited since it's my first," he added.
Bolick fired the first "shot" in the rekindled rivalry when he was asked about it during the Batang Pier's big 122-94 win against Alaska last Thursday.
"It's going to be a good matchup. I wish it still favored me, and I would still win," expressed Bolick with a chuckle during the post-game interview following the win that forged the 4 vs. 5 matchup.
"We're going to do our best because we toiled for it," said the floor general, who had a triple-double of 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists.
After those NCAA meetings, the two became teammates for the first time in Gilas Pilipinas, where they played in the FIBA World Cup under coach Yeng Guiao. The Philippines' campaign there was far from great, causing Perez to feel down, and it was actually his fierce foe who had his back.
"He lifted me up when I felt down, because there were times I didn't play well," recalled Perez.
The San Miguel scorer insisted there was no "rivalry" between the two, but just decided to go with the flow since it was how people perceived it to be. In fact, he's just as excited to see Bolick dominate, especially as the latter is showing no signs of slowdown following an ACL injury.
From being the no. 1 option in Lyceum and Terrafirma, Perez has now been relegated to a role player, relatively speaking, for San Miguel. Nonetheless, he is relishing the chance to learn a lot from his veteran teammates.
"I've been taught how to relax in a game and think about how to contribute more to the team by backing up the starting five. The energy, the effort, that's what I see," he shared.
On the flip side, Bolick and NorthPort are trying to prove a point and it's up to him and the veteran leadership of Sean Anthony, Greg Slaughter, and Kevin Ferrer to upset the mighty Beermen.
"Our mentality coming in, just like what coach said, we're building a winning culture. Whoever we face, then that's it," remarked Bolick, a well-known winner who once willed San Beda to multiple championships.
"We know San Miguel has a winning tradition, but of course, we won't back down, and we're ready. As long as we're healthy, we're going to give our best, and we'll live with the results," he added.