CJ Catapusan now proving worth as he plays hero for Iloilo

CJ Catapusan drained a buzzer-beater to give the United Royals a shocking 1-0 lead against the Strikers. MPBL
By Ivan Saldajeno

BACOOR--Although he was part of the University of the Philippines' historic 2022 UAAP champion team, CJ Catapusan did not see much action for the team in Seasons 84 and 85.

But outside the game, according to Iloilo coach MC Abolucion, Catapusan is known for his workmanship that he helps bring out the best in their team's key players during practice--probably also the case for Carl Tamayo and Zav Lucero when they were still King Maroons for UP.

"CJ is one of the athletic players sa UP before. Hindi lang siya nabibigyan ng playing time kasi meron kang Carl Tamayo at Zavier Lucero, pero he's a good teammate. Pinapahirapan niya yung mga best players namin sa team," Abolucion said on Saturday night.

With Tamayo signing with the Japan B.League and Lucero getting drafted to the PBA, Catapusan, who also turned pro this year, got a chance to showcase who he is through the MPBL.

Catapusan began his pro career with the Quezon Huskers, but after a few games, he transferred to the United Royals.

After a coaching change with Manu Inigo opting to focus on his new role as the University of Santo Tomas High School head coach, Catapusan found himself under the tutelage of Abolucion, himself a native of Iloilo City.

"Sabi ko nga sa kanya, 'Just keep working hard, and you'll never know when you get to play your best game,'" Abolucion recalled what he told Catapusan during one practice.

That "best game" happened right in a postseason game on Saturday night at the Bacoor City STRIKE Gymnasium.

Catapusan may have had a quiet outing of nine points and two rebounds and was even a minus-11 for Iloilo against Bacoor City.

However, he shot the attempt that mattered the most, a pull-up three from the left wing with 0.1 seconds left to give the eighth-seeded United Royals an 89-86 shocker over the top-seeded Strikers in Game 1 of their first-round series.

Abolucion and even Best Player Shaq Imperial, though, admitted that they did not see Catapusan's game-winner coming.

"Siguro gut feel lang na nakatanggap si CJ ng pass kasi [nag-switch] si [Chito] Jaime," Abolucion said.

Imperial, who delivered the game-winning assist off the inbound, added, "Walang nag-expect noon."

In a shocking manner, Iloilo has an outright chance to send Bacoor City home in Game 2 of their round-of-16 battle next Saturday at the Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City.

For the Strikers, they must win the game in order to send the series back here for Game 3 on Oct. 21.

Follow him on X: @IvanSaldajeno