WHILE June Mar Fajardo’s play in the PBA has been nothing but dominant, his stint in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) was, more or less, the opposite.
In his only season in the ABL playing for a San Miguel side was relaunched during the 2011-2012 season. Fajardo looked miles away from the Fajardo who dominated in the PBA a fews years down the road.
Fajardo, fresh from his stint with University of Cebu when he was acquired by the Beermen, averaged just 4.5 points and 4.1 rebounds during the 2011-2012 season and struggled to find his feet in the regional league.
Fajardo recalled his ABL stint was his first for a club based in Manila. The 6-10 gentle giant remembered being constantly homesick that he would choose to go home to Cebu even though he was just coming off a tiring road game.
“Nahirapan ako. Kinakabahan ako,” Fajardo recalled during a recent SPIN Sidelines episode. “Nung nag-ABL ako, sobrang na-homesick ako kasi dito sa Manila, wala kaming relatives. Wala kaming friends sa Manila. Mag-isa lang ako sa bahay.”
“Biyahe-biyahe ‘yun, di ba? Tapos pag-uwi ko dito, may time na kakarating lang kami kunwari galing Jakarta, kinabukasan, uuwi na kami (ng Manila). Tapos kinabukasan, uuwi na ako ng Cebu kasi nga na-homesick ako,” said Fajardo.
Eventually, Fajardo was able to adjust when he realized staying in Manila was much more practical.
“Medyo nasanay na rin ako mag-isa. Sabi ko, kapag uuwi rin ako, ano rin gagawin ko doon? Tiisin ko na lang. Nasanay na rin,” Fajardo said.
Back then, Leo Austria was already with Fajardo as part of the staff of San Miguel ABL coaching staff led by Bobby Parks. But Austria insisted that Fajardo’s paltry numbers in the regional league were not a reflection of his true talent.
Austria felt Fajardo’s limited minutes during his ABL days was due to the fact that the regional league had two world imports that posed match-up problems for the Cebuano.
“It happened lang na sa ABL, ang katapat niya is always an import,” Austria told SPIN.ph. “Hindi siya puwedeng tumapat sa local except sa Malaysia na ang kalaban namin si Mo Tautuaa.”
“Si Tautuaa, most of the time naglalaro sa labas. Nagkakaroon ng konting disadvantage (si June Mar). Pero most of the time, ang nababantayan niya is import which is malaking disadvantage para sa kanya,” said Austria.
Austria said most of their opponents maximized the two imports by playing them heavy minutes, which affected the chance of Fajardo to really shine and play longer.
“May advantage din siya or minsan even lang sila sa import sa offense pero sa kabila, nagkakaroon ng problema. And considering na meron kang dalawang imports, affected talaga ang time mo,” said Austria.
Austria recalled one game in the championship series against the Indonesia Warriors where Fajardo showed his immense potential in a three-big set.
“At that time, during the championship, we came short dahil medyo late na namin napasok si June Mar noon dahil nag-three bigs kami. Championship ‘yun against Todd Purves and Stanley Pringle. But ‘yung sa game na ‘yun, talagang makikita mo ‘yung potential niya,” said Austria.
Austria may have been referring to Game Three of the 2012 ABL Finals where Fajardo scored eight points although the Beermen came up short, 78-76, against the Warriors.
As he headed to the PBA after Fajardo’s final game in the ABL, Austria had no doubts that this player was bound to make it big.
“He is a quiet guy pero may potential siya,” Austria said.
Watch the Fajardo interview below during a recent SPIN Sidelines episode: