BETTER late than never seems to be the message June Mar Fajardo conveyed after suiting up for Gilas Pilipinas in the latter part of its Fiba Asia Cup campaign in Lebanon.
Initially expected to miss the entire continental championship due to a calf injury the was revealed a day before the team left for Beirut, the San Miguel Beer superstar turned out healthy enough to play starting in the quarterfinals against Korea.
Fajardo then played in the last two games against Lebanon and Jordan, respectively, ending up with averages of six points and three boards in 12.7 minutes in three games.
“Siguro oo (better late than never), syempre thankful din ako nabigyan ako ng chance na makalaro din,” the three-time reigning PBA MVP said in a chat with SPIN.ph after practice on Thursday on the eve of SMB’s Governors’ Cup game against GlobalPort, its return to action after a three-week break.
“Sobrang nakaka-proud lang na naging part ako sa team,” he added.
Asked if he forced himself of play so he can represent the country, Fajardo disclosed he was finally healthy enough to play for the national team.
“Kaya ko naman,” the 6-foot-10 slotman said. “Sinabihan ko si (PT) coach Dex (Aseron) and sila coach Josh (Reyes) na pag hindi ko kaya, ita-try ko lang tapos sabi nga ni coach Josh na try ko lang. Pero pag hindi ko naman kaya, sub ka lang, so thankful ako na binigyan ako ng chance.”
Fajardo, though, insisted it wasn’t his way of silencing his doubters who questioned the timing of his injury.
“Wala na akong paki,” the 27-year-old Cebuano native said. “Hindi naman natin mape-please yun eh. Nagpapasalamat ako dun sa mga taong sumusuporta at nagtitiwala sa akin, nage-encourage sa akin. Sila yung nagbibigay sa akin ng lakas, nagpe-pray sa’kin. Thankful ako sa kanila.
“Sa mga haters, wala na akong…hindi ko na problema yun,” he added.
Fajardo stressed he’s still not in top shape as he let SPIN.ph touch the part of his right calf that felt weird and would still tighten from time to time.
“Getting better na, (pero) oo (may pain pa) tapos mabilis mag-tight eh,” Fajardo said. “Tapos ngayon nga, nag-strengthening lang ako.”
Now, Fajardo is thrilled as he shifts his focus to SMB’s grand slam bid, although he said he’ll play sparingly against the Batang Pier after resting on Wednesday and just going through a walkthrough in practice on Thursday.
“Syempre excited na ako makalaro ulit,” Fajardo said. “Tinanong nga ako ni coach kung maglalaro ako bukas. Pero maglalaro ako, pero siguro limited minutes lang ako, kasi hindi pa (hundred percent).
“Okay lang rin para hindi mabigla. Gina-guide naman ako ng mga PT,” he added.