MANILA, Philippines – Amid a dwindling Gilas Pilipinas pool, head coach Tab Baldwin is choosing to look at things from a different, more positive perspective.
Such is the case on the national team losing back-to-back MVP June Mar Fajardo, which Baldwin opts not to treat as a real loss.
“Can’t lose something you never had,” he said late Monday night August 10 after Gilas practice. “We never had him and we never depended on him. We don’t know what it’s like to have him with this team.”
The 25-year old Fajardo begged off from Gilas Pilipinas duties due to a plantar fasciitis injury in both feet. The injury causes pain in the heel due to inflammation of the plantar fascia tissue.
“We obviously would have loved to incorporate him into the team,” added Baldwin, who said many times since his appointment as coach last December that Fajardo is the future of Gilas.
“But you can’t miss what you don’t have. That’s the way I look at it.”
Fajardo’s loss is a big blow to Gilas, which is left with veteran centers in 42-year old Asi Taulava and 33-year old Sonny Thoss.
Taulava, for his part, is more than ready to step up in Fajardo’s place.
“Right now I’m filling in the void for him. I just hope the people stop criticizing our brothers,” said Taulava, who played for the nationals several times since 2002.
“Me and Sonny (Thoss), we got a chance to be here on the national team and we’re going to plug that hole for June Mar. And if we can get that gold medal, we’re doing it for June Mar.
“One guy’s down, another guy steps up. That’s what the Philippines is known for, we fight for one another.”
Taulava also defended Fajardo from critics, saying he has seen the 2015 PBA Governors’ Cup Best Player of the Conference limping and in pain.
“The injuries, sometimes it’s hard to explain that to the general public. You know how grueling the season is in the PBA, we play year round. We’re not like China, we’re not like Korea, where they play 6 to 7 months out of the year and the rest of the time they’re resting. June Mar is going through pain,” Taulava explained.
“You can see it in his walk. In the way he was playing in the PBA conference, he was just so good and so dominant it’s kind of hard to notice it. That’s just how good June Mar is.”
This is the first time the 6-foot-10 big man will not be with the nationals since joining the team in 2013 under former coach Chot Reyes.
Fajardo suited up for the nationals as they went on to win silver at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and saw action for the first time in 4 decades at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. He also joined the team at the Incheon Asian Games.
Despite a rash of injuries to key players such as Andray Blatche, Kelly Williams, and Ranidel de Ocampo, Baldwin sees progress as the team enters its second week of full practices.
“They are progressing and they should be,” he said after Gilas learned more offensive sets and plays and played in a scrimmage during Monday night’s practice.
“It’s kind of in fits and starts. It’s stop and go, which is very normal for a new team that’s learning each other, learning the new coach and the system.
“It will settle down, it will get a lot more rhythmic as we progress. Right now we’re not a good team yet but we have the pieces to put together a good team.”
The national team is set to compete for the gold and an Olympics berth at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship this September in Changsha, Hunan, China. Full practices for the national team began August 3. – Rappler.com
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