STUDENT meets mentor.
As soon as world leaked out that Danny Ildefonso has signed a short-term deal with Meralco, basketball fans immediately peeked into their PBA calendars and were thrilled to know that the longtime Petron star has a January 18 date with current SMC toast June Mar Fajardo.
The excitement is understandable, considering it was the two-time MVP Ildefonso who took a rookie Fajardo under his wings last season and helped turn him into the formidable force he is today with daily one-on-one sessions during and after practice.
Now the new Meralco signing will find himself face to face with the monster he has created. Fajardo has become so good he now leads the PBA Philippine Cup Best Player of the Conference race with career-high numbers of 15.5 points, 17.2 rebounds and 3.0 blocks a game.
The 6-10 pride of Cebu suffered an MCL sprain in practice last December 23 but has since returned to do shooting practice and light drills as he looks forward to a return in time for the showdown with his acknowledged mentor.
The odds may be stacked against Ildefonso, a many-time All-Star who has spent most of the past two seasons on the bench as young turks like Fajardo took over at Petron.
But at 37, the former National University top dog still has a lot of pride left in him.
“Ang advantage lang niya sa akin is matangkad lang talaga siya at malaki,” Ildefonso told Spin.ph, just hours before his very first game this season in a Meralco uniform against Air21 on Saturday.
But more than anything, Ildefonso said he’s simply happy to be able to prolong his career at Meralco after being unceremoniously cut by Petron and have the opportunity to play against Fajardo.
“Pero unang una, masaya ako. Kasi kahit paano, magkakalaban pa kami ni June Mar," said the pride of Urdaneta, Pangasinan. "Saka sana maging maganda laro naming dalawa.”
The duel may be fun to watch, but for sure there will be no animosity between the two protagonists.
Despite being out of Petron, Ildefonso said he maintains regular communication with the 24-year-old Fajardo, especially when the Petron sophomore center suffered an injury late last month.
“Tinawagan ko siya at kinamusta ko lang. Sabi ko nga sa kanya may purpose si God bakit nangyari yan (injury). In-advise ko pa nga siya kung paano gagawin niya para pag na-injure siya, di lumala,” Ildefonso said.