SEVILLE, SPAIN – June Mar Fajardo playing well in the 2014 Fiba World Cup was a sight to behold for Norman Black, who saw it as a major step for the Gilas Pilipinas big men – and a giant step for Philippine basketball.
“June Mar looked very strong today. He was faster, stronger. He rebounded well and he finished strong around the basket,” said the Gilas assistant coach after Fajardo scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the 81-79 overtime victory over Senegal.
“I’m very happy for him today because this performance will help him not so much in the PBA where he’s already the league MVP, but more in international competition,” Black added. “This is a big step for June Mar. This is a big help for the country.”
This Fiba World Cup should be remembered not only for Gilas’ first win in 40 years at this level, but also for Fajardo’s coming of age with the national team after struggling to find his feet during last year’s Fiba Asia men’s championship in Manila.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes said the reigning league MVP finally embracing and adjusting to his back-up role behind naturalized player Andray Blatche helped fast-track Fajardo’s development.
“June Mar is just like any other player. He just needs time, his minutes on the court (to shine),” said Reyes. “Ang difference lang ngayon, he understood that the moment he comes in, he needs to contribute right away.
“In the PBA, he can afford to make a turnover or two before he heats up. Dito, hindi puwede.”
The Gilas coach also took exception to comments on line that the in-form Fajardo should’ve been given a lot more exposure in Gilas’ first five games – and that Reyes should have played him more in tandem with Blatche who is more of a ‘4’ than a center.
However, Reyes said match-ups dictated how he used Fajardo during the tournament, pointing out that he couldn’t afford to play his two big men together in games against teams whose ‘4’ guy can shoot three-pointers , as in the case of Argentina (Andres Nocioni) and Puerto Rico (Sanchez).
“We always wanted to play them together against teams with big guys. The problem with Puerto Rico is that its big guy, Sanchez, is a three-point shooter. Papaano babantayan ni June Mar ‘yon? He was going to be pulled outside. That’s why we have guys like Ranidel (De Ocampo) and Ping (Marc Pingris) to chase those shooters,” Reyes said.
“Same thing with Argentina. Their power forward is Andres Nocioni who is 6-8, 6-9 and shoots from the outside. So ‘yon ang mga reasons for that.
“These are all great players. If you give them time on the floor, they’ll play well. That time, game situations do not allow us to play them in those positions.”
Reyes agreed that Fajardo had more success playing with Blatche than Marcus Douthit who is a natural center like the San Miguel Beer star.
“The reason he played so well (against Senegal) is because he can play with Andray; he can’t play with Marcus because they play the same position,” Reyes said. “Since Andray attracts so much attention, it frees up June Mar to do a lot of things inside.”
Reyes said he found the perfect opportunity to play Fajardo and Blatche together in the game against Senegal, which has two big men who play almost exclusively inside.
“Against Senegal, we felt we could play them together since Senegal has two big guys who play inside so we can keep Andray and June Mar inside,” he said. “So that’s the reason behind it. It’s not a question of can he play or cannot play. It’s simply a match-up problem.
“What people also don’t know is (sa Puerto Rico game), lahat ng tao nagagalit kung bakit daw hindi ginagamit si June Mar, but they don’t know that in the seven minutes he was on the floor, the team was -14. Anong gagawin mo as a coach?
“Those are things that the public do not see. Sasabihin, ‘Bakit hindi ginamit si June Mar, ginamit lang si Blatche.’ Di naman nila nakikita ang nakikita namin.
“But so long as he is inside and we are on the positive, he stays inside.”
Black, who is also coach of Meralco in the PBA, said Fajardo’s standout performance bodes well for the Gilas program which needs a solid big man to team up with a naturalized player down low.
“He got his feet wet in the Fiba-Asia championships last year and, although he didn’t really play well, he got that under his belt. Now we see him, given the opportunity, really step up and help the team,” said the PBA grand slam coach.
“I think he’ll only get better from here on.”