INCHEON, South Korea — June Mar Fajardo’s coming of age has given Gilas Pilipinas a fighting chance against Iran in the 2014 Asian Games basketball competitions here.
This was the firm belief of Gilas Pilipinas team manager Aboy Castro as the team begins its bid for the Asian Games title.
The Philippines has an early showdown with Iran early on September 25 at the Hwaseong Sports Complex, the two teams' first meeting since the Iranians beat Gilas, 55-76, in the Fiba Asia Cup in Wuhan, China last July 18.
Iran also used its height to the hilt with Hamed Haddadi taking advantage of the absence of injured Marcus Douthit to score an 85-71 rout of Gilas in the Fiba Asia men's championships in Manila last year.
But with the way Fajardo has improved not just in the PBA but also in the Fiba World Cup, Castro believes the San Miguel big man can now challenge Haddadi in the middle.
“Iran is always tough,” said Castro. “But with the emergence of June Mar Fajardo, we will definitely compete against them.”
“Ibang-iba si June Mar compared to two months ago. Ibang-iba si June Mar a year ago in the Fiba-Asia Championship,” Castro said.
Castro recalled that during the shooting of the documentary Kuwentong Gilas, Fajardo was so nervous to go up against a one-time NBA player in Hadaddi.
“Soon after we won (against Korea), sinabi niya na kinakabahan ako, natatakot ako na wala si Kuya Marcus because he had to go up against an NBA player in Haddadi. Kinain talaga siya noon,” said Castro.
Fajardo, however, was a revelation in the Fiba World Cup as he played his best game against Senegal to help Gilas Pilipinas win its first game in 40 years.
Castro said the emergence of Fajardo will greatly help Philippine basketball in the long run with his exposure in international play in this year’s Asian Games.
“’Yung ginawa niya in the last four weeks, ibang-iba talaga. That will be very good for the Philippines. If he can continue to be exposed to world-class competition and play in world-class tournaments, then imagine how he can improve even more,” Castro said.