CEBU CITY – Once his great rival in the college leagues in this basketball hotbed, Greg Slaughter is now rooting for June Mar Fajardo to succeed when the PBA’s newest No.1 pick overall makes his pro debut with Petron.
“I’m happy for June Mar getting picked first. I know he’ll continue working hard and show everyone what kind of players Cebu can produce,” said Slaughter, a day after his former rival became just the third player from this city after Kelly Williams and Apet Jao to become a top pick overall.
From a purely basketball point of view, perhaps no one has a better idea of Fajardo’s capability than the seven-foot Slaughter who went head-to-head with the two-time Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. (Cesafi) MVP while he led University of the Visayas and Fajardo was the star of University of Cebu.
The two giants last clashed in the title series of the Cesafi in 2009 when Slaughter led the Green Lancers to a 3-1 victory, after which he moved to Manila to join Ateneo’s Blue Eagles in the UAAP.
Slaughter said Fajardo, fondly called ‘Abai’ by teammates and friends, was fortunate to be drafted by Petron, where he will be under the tutelage of Olsen Racela and Rajko Toroman – the Serbian coach who also handled Slaughter during his time as Smart Gilas coach.
“He’s with a good organization and I know he’ll learn a lot from Coach Rajko just like I did,” said Slaughter, himself a former Cesafi MVP.
Friends and former teammates also have no doubt in their minds that the 6-10 gentle giant from the small municipality of Pinamungahan, Cebu will stand out and justify his billing as head of the pro league’s freshman class of 2012.
Brian Heruela, the lone holdover from the UC Webmasters squad that Fajardo led to back-to-back Cesafi titles, said he is certain that given time his former teammate will make his presence felt in the pro ranks, both on and off the court.
“June Mar really deserves to be first overall pick because of his size and talent which are his advantages over everyone. His character both on and off the court will really make a huge impact in the PBA,” said Heruela.
Edward Pao, another former teammate and close friend of Fajardo, said the Cebuano slotman will surely repay Petron’s faith in him.
“[Fajardo] deserves all that he is getting. He has waited years for this opportunity to prove that he is the next big thing. He will definitely open peoples’ eyes with his competitiveness, defensive presence and scoring ability,” Pao said.
“He will definitely have a solid PBA career because of his work ethic and passion for the game. Petron will definitely get its money’s worth.”