June Mar health top priority for San Miguel, not PH Cup six-peat

MANILA, Philippines – June Mar Fajardo returning to his old lethal form is San Miguel's top priority even as the Beermen seek to win a record-extending sixth straight Philippine Cup title in the PBA.

San Miguel coach Leo Austria said they will not force Fajardo to return unless he makes a full recovery from a shin injury that could sideline him for an entire season. 

"Right now, we're not thinking of that six-peat. We're treating it one game at a time because we're trying to figure out what we have now," Austria said in Filipino.

"It's really tough for us because we all know June Mar is a big difference, especially in the All-Filipino since nobody can stop June Mar on a single coverage." 

The reigning five-time PBA MVP had shone the brightest in the Philippine Cup. 

Save for his rookie year, the Cebuano big man has won the last 6 Best Player of the Conference plums in the All-Filipino tournament.

Although his production in their title-retention bid will be badly missed, Fajardo should take his time to recuperate, Austria said. 

"We will not force him because we all know how important June Mar is, not only for San Miguel, but also for Philippine basketball," said Austria. 

Finding big men

Losing Fajardo has forced San Miguel to go on a hunt for another big man, whether from free agency or other leagues.

"We only have a few big men because we're not thinking that such incident will happen to June Mar," said Austria, whose frontcourt unit consists of Mo Tautuaa, Billy Mamaril, Russel Escoto, and Arwind Santos. 

Austria added, "We're okay before. But now, we have to look at any possibility to have another backup big man."

For now, the Beermen hope Tautuaa could fill the void left by Fajardo. 

While he normed just 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds since he was traded to San Miguel, Tautuaa showed flashes of brilliance when he was with NorthPort, where he was a steady double-double performer. 

"Before, June Mar was our priority, so his average of 35 minutes can be distributed to a lot of players from point guard up to the big man," Austria said. 

Austria, though, did not dismiss the possibility of stretching their reign in the season-opening conference.

"This coming conference is really tough for us. What we've probably also lost are the big expectations. We could pull off a surprise, we don't know." – Rappler.com

Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.

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