THERE'S an evident void on one side of the bleachers inside Acropolis Greens, next to the spot where June Mar Fajardo usually sits, as San Miguel returned to practice in the new year on Wednesday.
For the first time in three years, the four-time PBA MVP was without his old Cebuano running partner Brian Heruela, his teammate from their days at University of Cebu.
"Nao-O.P. nga ako eh," he told newcomers Paul Zamar and Ryan Monteclaro in jest as they started stretching to begin the session.
It was a joke, of course, but one can't help but sense a pinch of truth in Fajardo's words, something the 6-foot-10 slotman made no effort to hide when asked about the SMB guard who was sent to TNT KaTropa as part of the Terrence Romeo trade.
"Noong una, malungkot ako kasi ang tagal ko na siya kasama eh," he said of Heruela, who won a pair of Cesafi titles with Fajardo as well as four PBA championships since he joined SMB after an unceremonious run in Blackwater.
Fajardo, however, knows all too well how businesses like the PBA works, and he only hopes for nothing but the best for Heruela with the KaTropa.
"Lagi naman naming sinasabi na ganoon ang buhay sa basketball. Di mo masasabi ang kapalaran mo. Kung anong team mo ngayon, dapat i-cherish mo," he said. "Mas okay siguro sa kanya na nandoon siya kasi mas makakalaro siya, mabibigyan siya ng playing time. Masaya ako para sa kanya."
The late-year trade has paved the way for a reunion of sorts between Fajardo and Romeo, who played together in the Chot Reyes-era Gilas Pilipinas teams.
"Syempre excited ako na makasama siya," said Fajardo. "Ang daming sinasabi about sa kanya, pero sa tingin ko naman magwo-work siya dito sa amin. Grabe din ang talent niya."
Fajardo said the transition will all boil down to chemistry.
"Malaking tulong siya sa amin, pero kailangan pa rin naming i-work yung chemistry namin sa kanya," he said. "Nandito lang naman kami para tulungan siya and siya rin, tutulungan niya kami."