MANILA, Philippines – The teacher’s role is to impart what he knows to his student, and hope that when the student is kicked out of the nest, he will have learned enough to fly solo and soar high.
Danny Ildefonso has been quite successful as a teacher just as he is as a professional basketball player. Just look at his proud student June Mar Fajardo, who has already risen to great heights just two years into the PBA.
“Kung ano naman success niya, masaya naman ako,” Ildefonso spoke of his sophomore protégé who nearly bagged the 2013 Rookie of the Year plum and is a member of Gilas Pilipinas. “Masipag yung bata eh.” (Whatever success he has, I am quite happy. The kid works hard.)
“Masaya ko kasi maganda nilalaro niya,” he added. (I’m happy that he’s playing well.)
Ildefonso took the 6-foot-10 Fajardo under his wing when the Petron Blaze Boosters drafted the former University of Cebu standout first overall in 2012. Ildefonso, who was then still with his longtime team Petron, became the key to unlocking the treasure trove of potential Fajardo had yet to even see in himself.
The 37-year old two-time PBA Most Valuable Player worked tirelessly with Fajardo to improve his game and help mold him into one of the league’s most dominant centers.
Acting like a sponge, Fajardo absorbed all of Ildefonso’s 15 years of knowledge, experience and techniques.
But Ildefonso was not renewed for Petron and was signed by the Meralco Bolts at the start of the year, allowing everybody some excitement at the prospect of the two matching up against each other. (READ: A new era for ‘Demolition Danny’ Ildefonso)
On Saturday, January 18 it finally happened.
Teacher versus student
“Ang hirap! Ang hirap kalaro ni June Mar (Very hard! It’s so hard to play against June Mar),” was how Ildefonso described the mammoth match-up, even saying that as a teacher, he mustn’t let his student defeat him.
Ildefonso entered at the 5:12 mark of the opening period, but they barely grazed each other as Fajardo was quickly subbed out less than a minute later and would never return until the second canto. That’s when their real battle began.
Their dynamic and extreme familiarity was on full display as soon as Fajardo got hold of the leather and posted up against his mentor. Ildefonso, having taught many of his techniques to the 24-year old, fully expected the spin move that Fajardo was trying to attempt about 30 seconds into the second.
“Siya nagturo sa akin nun eh,” Fajardo said. “Yung isa nga nung first half nag-spin ako, na-anticipate niya. Alam niya eh.” (He taught me that. He anticipated the spin move I did in the first half. He knows.)
Though anticipated, Fajardo was still able to draw a foul and just before going to the line for his two shots, he walked over shyly to Danny I. and stretched his hand, as if to apologize for the physicality.
At which point, Ildefonso brushed him off and told him to do his job at the stripe. The exchange showed the incredible amount of respect Fajardo has for the person who taught him.
Yet it also turned out to be Ildefonso teaching another lesson to Fajardo—a lesson in professionalism.
“Nagso-sorry [siya] eh. Sabi niya, ‘idol sorry,’” Ildefonso relayed what they were talking about on the court. “Sabi ko lang ‘mag-focus ka tsaka huwag mo ako pagbibigyan,’ tapos [sabi niya] ‘hindi nakalusot ka nga eh.’ Sabi ko lang ‘mag-focus ka sa game wag mo ako [isipin]. Nakakahiya sa coaching staff niyo.’”
(He apologized. He said, ‘idol sorry.’ I told him ‘just focus and don’t go easy on me,’ then he said ‘no, you even got away from me.’ I just told him ‘focus on the game and don’t think of me. It’s respect to your coaching staff.’)
The two started the third canto by exchanging baskets on both ends, with Fajardo masterfully executing some vintage Danny I. and beating his mentor in his own game.
“Naisahan ako eh!” Ildefonso exclaimed laughing. “Yung baseline [move] tinuro ko sa kanya yun eh. Tapos before the game pa tinuturo ko pa sa mga big man dito (Meralco) na yun ang move ni June Mar. Eh sa akin pa nangyari.” (He got me! I taught him that baseline [move]. Before the game I even told the Meralco big men that it was June Mar’s move. Yet it happened to me.)
(Watch the exchange in the first minute of this video)
But despite his young buck scoring one over him, Ildefonso stressed he couldn’t be any happier for Fajardo and he hopes to see him win an individual award soon, such as the Best Player of the Conference plum.
“Naiinis lang ako na naisahan niya ko pero masaya ako na maganda nilalaro and nakabalik na siya [from injury]. Para makahabol pa siya sa BPC [Best Player of the Conference].” (I don’t like that he got one over me but I’m happy that he’s playing well and he came back. So he can catch up with the BPC.)
Fajardo praised his teacher as well, saying that simply knowing every trick up your mentor’s sleeve is only half the battle.
“Alam ko na gagawin niya. Pero wala, naka-counter niya eh. Dinadaan niya sa experience eh.” (I know what he’s going to do. But he can counter it. He uses his experience.)
He even believes he was at a disadvantage in the match-up. “Kasi yung mga tinuturo niya sa akin, yun lang din ginagawa ko eh. Naka-counter din niya.” (All I’m doing is everything he taught me. So he counters it.)
Their friendly competition ended up in a loss for Ildefonso and the Meralco Bolts, 96-87. Fajardo also won the match-up with his teacher as he scored 19 points and pulled down 15 rebounds.
Ildefonso, on the other hand, finished two points less than his protégé with 17 points along with 8 rebounds. However, the 6-6 Danny I. can lord over Fajardo that he was a blocking machine in this game, swatting the ball away 5 times while Fajardo had none.
Knowing Fajardo’s game like the back of his hand did not making things easier for the veteran, Ildefonso says. In fact, he lauded Fajardo as the heaviest center he has ever played against in all of his years in the PBA.
“Sobrang bigat. Ang dami ko nang nabantayan na malalaking import tsaka malalaking mga Pilipino, si June Mar ang pinakamabigat sa lahat eh. Tsaka may skills pa.” (He’s so heavy. I guarded plenty of huge imports and Filipinos, but June Mar is the heaviest of all. He has skills, too.)
No bad blood
Of course, the game wasn’t just about Ildefonso playing against his student. It was also about him playing against his old team—the only team he’s known for his entire career.
Asked how emotional it was for him, Ildefonso shrugged it off and said there is no bad blood there. He is merely happy and grateful to still be playing.
“Wala na. Wala naman akong ano sa kanila eh,” he said. “Sa akin lang nakapaglaro ako. Tsaka masaya na rin ako.” (Nothing. I have nothing against them. As long as I’m playing. And I’m just really happy.)
He pauses before adding with a chuckle, “Tsaka kahit papaano nakasabay sa estudyante ko.” (And at least I can still keep up with my student.)
Fajardo’s wish, meanwhile, is for Danny I. to still play for a few more years.
“Yung experience niya nandoon pa rin. Sobrang taas. Sana makalaro pa siya ng ilang years pa.” (His experience is still there. It’s huge. I hope he can still play for a few more years.)
The Meralco Bolts have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Alaska Aces in a knockout game on Monday, January 20. Ildefonso, who was only signed for one conference, is not yet assured of a renewed contract and subsequently an extension of his career.
But even if it is the end of the line for Ildefonso, he can feel proud knowing that he passed on the torch to someone like Fajardo, who deserves it and only has the utmost respect for one of the best players of the game.
“Privilege ko rin na makalaro siya [Ildefonso] eh.” (It’s a privilege to play with him.) – Rappler.com
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