MANILA, Philippines – As a kid growing up in Cebu, June Mar Fajardo never dreamed of making it big in basketball. In fact, he never even thought he’d play basketball.
However, a solid growth spurt, a highly successful high school basketball career, a national team stint, a Best Player of the Conference award, and a sctintillating two-year Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) career later – Fajardo is now the 2014 PBA Most Valuable Player.
“Hindi ko nga inisip na maglaro ng basketball nung bata ako eh. Hindi ko nga inisip na makakaabot ako dito pero nandito ako, so pasalamat ako,” said the San Miguel Beermen bigman after he received his award in the annual Leo Awards right before Game 3 of the Governors’ Cup Finals on Saturday, July 5 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
(When I was a kid, I never thought I’d play basketball. I never even thought I’d get to where I am now but I’m here and I’m grateful.)
The 24-year old Fajardo achieved the feat after posting averages of 16.8 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.4 assists for the entire 2013-2014 season, according to PBA Head Statistician Fidel Mangonon III. He also shot 55% field goals.
He bested fellow MVP candidates, Jayson Castro (Talk ‘N Text), Ranidel de Ocampo (Talk ‘N Text), and Asi Taulava (Air21 Express) as he garnered a total of 2614 statistical points.
Fajardo attributed his success to hard work and dedication in everything he does.
“Hindi ko ma-explain yung nararamdaman ko kasi marami nangarap na makakuha rin ng award na ‘to tapos sa dinadami daming player na magaling sa PBA, ako [yung] napiling maging MVP,” he tried to express how he felt about getting the highest individual recognition in the professional league.
“Nakakataba ng puso.”
(I can’t explain how I’m feeling because so many dream of getting this award. And among the many great players in the PBA, I was chosen to become MVP. It makes my heart swell.)
A man of very few words during interviews, the soft-spoken and shy 6-foot-10 giant received his award and spoke his heart out with a 3 minute, 24-second acceptance speech.
“Nagpapasalamat rin ako sa PBA, maraming pangarap ang nabuo dito.” (I want to thank the PBA, many dreams started here.)
But the MVP wasn’t the only award Fajardo took home. As the 2014 Leo Awards drew to a close, Fajardo walked out of the court carrying loot in the form of 4 trophies.
The 2012 first overall draft pick also won the Most Improved Player award and is part of the Mythical First Team and the All-Defensive Team.
All these accolades he claimed just 7 years after walking into the University of Cebu (UC) college basketball team tryouts.
Fajardo, then only standing at 6-foot-5 and still very skinny, participated in the tryouts in 2007 only because he hoped he’d land a scholarship to help his parents.
He never intended to be great at basketball and he wasn’t even fully acquainted with the game then.
But UC coach Roel Gomez saw something in Fajardo and took a chance on him. Gomez trained and molded Fajardo, who in turn rose fast in the collegiate scene as he bagged 3 MVP awards from 2009-2011 in the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. (CESAFI) among other recognitions.
“Laking papasalamat ko galing din sa UC, kasi kung hindi ako nakapunta sa UC, baka hindi ako makaabot dito,” Fajardo said. (I am very grateful I came from UC because if I never went there, I might not be here right now.)
His success also comes at exactly the right time as Fajardo admitted that his family his grieving over the loss of his uncle, Lito Dugho, who died of Stage 4 liver cancer.
Fajardo dedicates his awards to the uncle he was very close to and who supported him in every way in spite of his illness.
“Dedicate ko rin ‘to sa kanya kasi pag nanonood ng basketball yun, kahit hindi na nakakatayo, tatayo pa rin siya pag nakaka-score ako,” Fajardo shared.
“Tatayo siya tapos sisigaw siya kahit sobrang sakit ng nararamdaman niya, natutuwa siya pag nakaka-score ako.”
(I dedicate this to him because every time he watches basketball, even if he can’t stand up anymore, he would still stand each time I score.)
Though Fajardo said he won’t be able to return home to Cebu and pay his final respects due to Gilas Pilipinas commitments as the national team gears up for the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, China starting July 11.
A mentor’s prediction come true
Just over a year ago, mentor Danny Ildefonso predicted that Fajardo will win an MVP award “in two year’s time.”
His forecast came true, except it came earlier than expected.
“Nagtext nga siya kanina eh, tapos tinawagan ko siya,” Fajardo shared what Ildefonso, a two-time PBA MVP himself, thought of Fajardo’s achievement.
“Tuwang tuwa nga siya eh. Sabi niya proud daw siya sa akin. Proud din naman ako sa kanya eh. Isa rin siya sa mga taong tumulong sa akin eh and malaki din yung impact niya sa akin.”
(He texted me and I called him. He was very happy. He said he was proud of me. I’m proud of him too. He’s one of the people who helped me and he had a great impact on me.)
Ildefonso took Fajardo under his wing in his rookie year for the Beermen (then Petron Blaze Boosters) and imparted valuable knowledge and experience that helped transform Fajardo into the dominant bigman he is today.
“Yung mga tinuro niya sa akin, yung mga hard work and extra work na ginawa namin nagbunga naman.” (Everything he taught me, the hard work and extra work we did were all worth it.)
Despite the huge individual recognition, Fajardo says his ultimate goal is still to win a title for his team next season.
And while winning the MVP was an unexpected dream for him, a championship, on the other hand, is a dream he expects to fulfill soon enough.
“Mas iniisip ko kasi yung championship eh. Yung MVP parang reward lang ‘to sa ginagawa ko.”
Fajardo wasn’t the only one recongized for his outstanding efforts in the 39th season of the PBA.
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s Greg Slaughter, an old college rival of Fajardo’s and fellow Cebu native, took home the 2014 Rookie of the Year plum.
Below is the full list of the 2014 Leo Awards winners.
Most Valuable Player: June Mar Fajardo
Mythical First Team:
- Jayson Castro
- Mark Barroca
- June Mar Fajardo
- Asi Taulava
- Ranidel de Ocampo
Mythical Second Team:
- Paul Lee
- PJ Simon
- Greg Slaughter
- Marc Pingris
- Sonny Thoss
Rookie of the Year: Greg Slaughter
Most Improved Player: June Mar Fajardo
- Marc Pingris
- Gabe Norwood
- June Mar Fajardo
- Mark Barroca
- Jireh Ibanes
Sportsmanship Award: Willie Miller