Back in May at the European Poker Tour stop in Monte Carlo, PokerStars announced a new wave of sponsored poker streamers.
Spain’s Alberto ‘catof’ Pérez was one of them. Streaming under his name ‘Catof_Poker’, Pérez has built himself a nice audience throughout Spanish-speaking countries and developed relationships with fellow PokerStars Ambassadors like PSPC 2019 winner Ramon Colillas and Steve Enriquez.
But while we were familiar with Pérez’s Twitch background, where he plays on PokerStars.es under the screen name “Bumhunteador”, what we didn’t know is that Pérez was once on track to become a professional basketball player in Spain—arguably the best basketball nation outside of the USA.
PokerStars Blog’s Spanish reporter Jorge Iglesias sat down for a chat with Pérez to dive further into his hoop dreams, what is was like playing against James Harden and Ricky Rubio, and when he decided to move on.
Pérez began playing basketball for his local district team when he just six years old, predominantly because all of his best friends were playing too.
“When I was a kid I liked to watch all players, but when I grew up I began to have a few idols, particularly Vince Carter,” Pérez says. “He was addicted to dunks and it was an inspiration for me to take part in some local dunk contests.”
Whereas players like NBA superstar Anthony Davis began their journey playing point guard before a rapid growth spurt, it was the reverse for Pérez. He played centre, to begin with, due to his height.
“When my growth stalled I had to make my first big life adjustment and change my position,” he recalls. “I then played in every position and really enjoyed all of them.”
Regardless of position, Pérez had the skills and would eventually sign to play youth basketball with Spanish professional team Unicaja Málaga in his early teens, whilst also studying.
“It was very hard on a mental level,” Pérez remembers. “I had to study and kept a very tight schedule in order to keep up with sport and studies.”
This feeling will be very familiar to anyone who began playing poker whilst at college or university.
“I have no regrets, but I had to put aside so many personal things. It was a tough situation. The goal was simply to get better every day and find my place in the professional team.”
Just like in poker, Pérez learnt quickly that if he didn’t work on improving his basketball game, he might fall behind. Thankfully, he had a coach who reminded him of this regularly.
“I was so lucky to have Ángel Sánchez Cañate (Unicaja Málaga coach and Spanish National Team assistant) as a coach. He was a world champion, and he told us: ‘Somewhere in the world there is a player with your same skills working harder than you. If you want to reach the top, you have to be the hardest worker at your position in the world.’”
Pérez took that advice on board. His goal was to become a pro in the Liga ABC (the top Spanish basketball league), after all.
“That was my dream with no doubt,” he says. “I would usually do a one-hour trip and then three-hours training with that goal in mind.”
As Pérez found his spot on the team, he began going up against other talented youngsters, both from Spain and from the USA.
“I realised that not only do you have to work harder than everyone else, you also need to have a gift, something special that, to be honest, I didn’t have. I was an average player with tons of enthusiasm.”
Some of those future NBA superstars Pérez went up against include Spain’s own Ricky Rubio (Phoenix Suns point guard) and James Harden (Houston Rockets superstar and 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player).
“I played against many players that are actual stars now,” Pérez says. “It’s in those specific moments when you feel small. You see players that are light years ahead of you and do whatever they want on the court.
“Ricky Rubio, for example, was the best on his team and he was two years younger than his teammates, which is absolutely insane.”
Ultimately, Pérez faced a tough decision.
“You have to be self-critical and I knew that I would need tons of luck to reach the top of basketball,” he says. “I watched ball geniuses with much more talent and physical gifts than me. When I was 16 or 17, I realised that the basketball path was not for me.”
Pérez would go on to discover poker and the world of Twitch streaming. That has led him to sign as a PokerStars Streamer, but he still uses the basketball lessons he learnt every day.
“I’m a very competitive person,” Pérez says. “In fact, that’s the poker fact I love. We create strategies against rivals and try to be better than them.”
Thanks to the great Jorge Iglesias for his interview skills.
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