JUNE MAR Fajardo is excited to team up with Greg Slaughter in the men’s national basketball pool for the FIBA World Cup qualifiers fifth window.
For the first time, two of the country’s most dominant big men will don the Pilipinas jersey if they both make the final cut for the two home matches against Kazakhstan on November 30 and Iran on December 3 both at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Although Slaughter missed the first practice due to Barangay Ginebra’s PBA Governors' Cup semifinal game against Magnolia, the fit-again Fajardo of San Miguel expressed his excitement in teaming up with his rival since college in Visayas.
“Sobrang lalaki ano? Siyempre naeexcite. Naeexcite na makasama sila lalo na si Greg,” said the four-time PBA Most Valuable Player, who used to play for University of Cebu going up against Slaughter of University of Visayas . “Ilang years na kaming nagkakalaban ni Greg and ngayon magkakasama na kami sa international pa so looking forward.”
Both almost had a chance to play in one team in the previous window last September but Fajardo was out due to right shin injury, while Slaughter, who was selected in the pool and granted with clearance to play as a local, missed both games due to ankle injury.
Without naturalized center Andray Blatche in the two matches, Fajardo said that it will be a total team effort from him and other big men in JP Erram, Beau Belga, Troy Rosario, Ian Sangalang, Arwind Santos, Christian Standhardinger, Japeth Aguilar and young gun Kai Sotto in filling the big shoes of the former NBA player.
“Sa akin talaga? Wag sa akin,” said Fajardo sharing a laughter with the reporters. “Hindi naman marami naman kaming malalaki I mean hindi lang sa akin.”
The 6-foot-10 center also promised to give his best in stopping Iran star big man Hamed Haddadi.
“Gagawin ko lahat ma-minimize ko si Haddadi pero magbabase pa rin yan sa team effort e para matalo natin yung Iran,” he added. “Hindi ganoon kadali yun alam naman natin yun pero hindi rin imposible na maipapanalo natin yung game as long as magtutulungan tayo.”
Fajardo is also grateful to be part of the ‘best team ever’ tagged by Gilas pioneer coach Rajko Toroman.
“Siyempre masaya ako na part ako ng strongest team diba?” the national team mainstay said. “Sana maipanalo natin yung dalawang games natin dito kasi malaking malaking bagay yun para sa atin na naglalaro tayo homecourt kasi yung home crowd yun yung magpapaboost ng kumpiyansa sa team so sana makuha natin.”
But there is still a lot of things to work on for them to live up to the billing.
“Basta kailangan pa siguro magpractice ng husto kasi kahit sabihin nating malakas on paper pero pagdating sa (tournament) diba?” he added. “Kasi marami pang kailangan gawin. Chemistry marami pang iwowork out so para maging malakas to kailangan magpractice ng mabuti rin sundin yung game plan.”
Although he is still working his way back to top form after being out with a shin injury, Fajardo is happy to be back for the national team and be mentored by new national team coach Yeng Guiao for the first time.
“Masaya ako na nandito ulit ako, maging part ng pool, excited ako maglaro under coach Yeng, mamentor niya,” he said. “Naeexcite ako at the same time na pepressure ako kasi siyempre kilala naman natin si coach Yeng may temper siya pero okay lang yun. Nagtutulungan naman tayo para naman sa team.”