NOW Danny Ildefonso is set to get a first-hand experience on how former protégé June Mar Fajardo has improved since teacher and student parted ways almost two years ago.
With forward Reynel Hugnatan out due to a suspected knee sprain, the 36-year-old Ildefonso is expected to get extended minutes playing against the reigning league MVP from Cebu when Meralco and San Miguel tangle in the main game of the PBA Philippine Cup Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot-4 Hugnatan hurt his knee during the Bolts' 74-77 loss to Purefoods in Binan, Laguna last Sunday, prompting the Bolts to turn to Ildefonso John Ferriols in a bid to contain the most dominant big man in the PBA today.
“Reynel won't be around for tomorrow's (Friday) game so we will need out back-up bigs like Danny I to step up,” admitted Meralco coach Norman Black.
Fajardo’s improved play the past two seasons had been credited to his work with Ildefonso, who personally mentored the Beermen’s young center during their brief time together at San Miguel during the 2012-13 season.
A bitter falling-out between Ildefonso and San Miguel management however, ended a fruitful 15-year partnership that produced eight league championships.
Ildefonso won his two league Most Valuable Player awards with the San Miguel franchise, along with five Best Player trophies and three Finals MVPs.
But come Friday, things will definitely be different.
Ildefonso was quick to admit Fajardo is now the league’s best big man, owing to his size, power, and confidence, which was enhanced following his stint with the Gilas Pilipinas team the past two years.
“Si June Mar, malaki na, malakas pa. Pero oras na gamitin ako, importante lang eh maging maganda ang laro ko para sa team,” Ildefonso told Spin.ph after the Bolts’ practice on Thursday.
“Malaki talaga ang advantage niya (Fajardo) dahil nagka-kumpiyansa na 'yung bata dahil naglaro pa siya sa Gilas. Eh nakalaban niya na dun (Fiba World Cup) yung mga malalakas na big men kaya niya nao-overpower yung mga big men sa PBA ngayon,” Ildefonso added.
Fajardo is currently averaging 19.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, and a league-best 2.5 blocks per contest to help San Miguel grab a share of the top spot with Alaska on its 7-1 record.
But Ildefonso said the Bolts will try to make the most of what they have, knowing that a victory over the powerhouse Beermen could keep their hopes alive for a spot in the top six, which would guarantee a twice-to-beat advantage heading to the playoffs.
Meralco currently holds an even 4-4 record.