HOW much June Mar Fajardo’s improvement and dominance in the local scene will translate into the international level will be known when the Gilas Pilipinas center gets his feet wet for the first time this year in two tune-up games against Iran next week.
The reigning back-to-back PBA MVP could get an instant acid test in Hamed Haddadi, who is part of his country's provisional squad for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, in the friendlies set on June 8 and 9 at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Fajardo admitted he is looking forward to his possible matchup with the 7-foot-2 Haddadi, a five-year NBA veteran who he’ll meet for the first time in three years.
“Oo (looking forward ako),” the San Miguel Beer slotman said after practice on Friday.
Fajardo was a second stringer in then coach Chot Reyes’ rotation when he faced off against Haddadi in the finale of the 2013 Fiba Asia Championship, where the Iranian stalwart scored 29 points and 16 boards to lead his team to the title on the way to being named MVP of the continental showpiece for the third time.
Fajardo, however, has come a long way from that and has emerged as the national team’s cornerstone.
Still, the 6-foot-10 Cebuano giant played down the individual matchup, saying what’s more important is for Gilas to strengthen its bond ahead of the OQT in July in Manila. Iran is playing in the Turin, Italy bracket of the Olympic qualifiers.
“Hindi naman about (individual) matchup yun,” Fajardo said. “Kailangan namin i-build yung chemistry namin, kasi first game namin yun sa international this year."
Gilas stepped up its buildup with another closed-door practice on Friday at Meralco gym.
“Nag-scrimmage kami. Medyo nakakapagod lang pero okay naman.”
“Medyo kabisado na namin yung mga plays,” he added. “Kailangan lang namin i-work out yung mga depensa namin.”
The Filipino dribblers of coach Tab Baldwin take a day off on Saturday before going back on the grind on Sunday and Monday.