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    Fajardo looks back on breakout vs Senegal that proved his worth as Gilas mainstay

    Sep 4, 2020
    PHOTO: Fiba.basketball

    TRUTH be told, June Mar Fajardo has heard it all. He just never bothered to put too much thought on it.

    The Cebuano giant isn't impervious to criticism, especially when he wears those familiar Gilas Pilipinas blue-and-whites.

    Dominant in the local front, Fajardo's might hasn't always translated in the international game -- a big reason why the chatter still continues.

    Yet it took him a trip to Seville and a breakout performance against the towers of Senegal just to shush those naysayers and prove that he truly belongs.

    Really, what better way for him to have his breakout than in the 2014 Fiba World Cup.

    "Ang sarap balikan nun kasi World Cup yun. Ibang klase yung experience doon," the San Miguel bruiser said of that Gilas travail -- which is exactly six years to this day.

    Like a caged animal set free, Fajardo made everyone believers as he formed a potent frontline with naturalized player Andray Blatche and caught the African opposition off-guard with his combination of speed (for his size) and finesse.

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    Gilas coach Chot Reyes has dabbled with the pairing in the games prior, which we should note were close ones. He just didn't go all in with it.

    Even Fajardo had no inkling that he'll see more minutes in the Philippines' last game in the global hoops conclave, all the more as he only averaged eight minutes per contest in the past four games.

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    "Walang sinabi sa akin si coach Chot. Pero may games naman na pinagsasabay kami ni Andray," he said. "Pag foul trouble siya, ako yung papalit. Yun kasi yung role ko sa team, na ako yung backup center."

    But against Senegal, it was superbly effective.

    Coming in at the 2:45 mark of the first quarter, Fajardo bid his time and provided picks and valuable putbacks, all of which kept the Philippines in the thick of the fight.

    But when Gilas needed him the most, the usually meek 6-foot-10 center didn't shy away from the spotlight as Blatche helplessly watched from the bench after fouling out with less than two minutes remaining.

    Fajardo first caught a pass from Ranidel de Ocampo and pump-faked three defenders to tie the game at 71 with 1:33 left.

    With Gilas holding a precarious 73-71 lead with 58 ticks left, he calmly canned a pair of freebies to extend the lead to four.

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    It was all academic from there as Jimmy Alapag put on the finishing touches in the Philippines' 81-79 overtime conquest over Senegal -- ending the country's 40-year dry spell in the world championships.

    Fajardo shone the brightest for Gilas, amassing 15 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals -- all of which tournament-highs -- in 32 minutes of action, equalling his minutes from the four games prior.

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      "Ready lang naman ako. Yun lang ang nasa isip ko, lalo na bansa natin yung nire-represent natin sa World Cup," he said.

      True enough, that only catapulted Fajardo's confidence as he went on to win six PBA MVP awards, while also making himself a staple of the national team.

      That game against Senegal will always stay near and dear to the Pinamungajan-born bruiser's heart, proving to himself and to the public that he is here to stay for Gilas.

      "Anytime naman na tawagin nila ako, nandoon ako lagi basta healthy ako. Always ready lang," he said.
      ___

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      PHOTO: Fiba.basketball
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