FOR June Mar Fajardo, the withdrawal of injured Greg Slaughter from the Gilas Pilipinas training pool felt like losing his tag team partner prior to an important wrestling match.
"Nakakalungkot kasi kaming dalawa 'yung malaki sa team. Kaming dalawa lang yung nagpapalitan sa posisyon," said Fajardo after the national team concluded its Thursday practice at the Meralco gym.
Back after more than a month of rest from training, coach Tab Baldwin made a shocking announcement on Wednesday by saying Slaughter and big guard Matt Ganuelas Rosser are officially out of the pool that's preparing for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) due to ankle injuries.
The 6-11 Slaughter attended practice, but did not join the national players in scrimmage and left the venue earlier. He's scheduled to undergo an ankle surgery that will sideline him for 2-3 months.
Without him in the Gilas roster, the task of manning the middle for the national squad will solely rest on the broad shoulders of Fajardo and naturalized player Andray Blatche.
And it won't be easy, according to Fajardo, considering the quality of opposition coming over for the Manila leg of the qualifier set from July 5-10 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"Siyempre mahirap kasi malalaki rin naman 'yung mga kalaban natin," said the reigning two-time PBA MVP. "Kailangan talaga natin si Greg."
But he respects and support the decision made by his longtime court rival.
"Wala tayong magagawa dun. I-respeto natin yung desisyon ni Greg," said the 25-year-old San Miguel star. "Katawan niya 'yun, mas kabisado niya 'yun. Kailangan niya siguro talagang magpahinga."
Fajardo said his own knee injury - suffered during the Philippine Cup semifinals - has already healed and he looks forward to suiting up for Gilas for the first time since the 2014 Fiba World Cup in Seville, Spain.
"Ok naman tayo, nakapag-pahinga na rin naman ako," he said.