THE return of rookie big man June Mar Fajardo may just be what the doctors ordered for Petron Blaze with three games to go in their elimination campaign in the PBA Philippine Cup.
The league’s top overall rookie pick in this year’s Draft played his first game back Sunday after missing out on the last eight following surgery done on him to reduce the swelling on his scrotum.
Fajardo readily made his presence felt by finishing with 14 points, seven rebounds, a steal, and a blocked shot in 25 minutes of play, helping the Boosters to a walk-in-the-park 110-81 victory over Globalport Batang Pier at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Boosters’ 29-point winning margin was their biggest this season as they climbed up for a tie of sixth and seventh spot with the slumping Alaska Aces behind similar 5-6 (win-loss) records.
Petron coach Olsen Racela recognized the value of having the 269-pound Fajardo back in harness.
“He’s (Fajardo) a big addition because Danny I. (Ildefonso) can’t play. You can see the big difference when he’s inside, may taga-rebound and intimidating presence kami,” noted Racela.
The rising center out of University of Cebu said he is glad to be back in action, but admitted he’s not yet in game-shape.
“Di pa ako masyado makatakbo kasi yung legs ko sobrang wala pa..saka yung hangin ko din. Ngayon wino-work out ko lower ko, saka conditioning,” said Fajardo in his deep baritone voice as he talked to Spin.ph.
Fajardo, who turned 23 last Saturday, played with a lot of energy – diving for the loose ball and banging bodies against Globalport’s big guys in heralding his return to action.
“Atat na atat na ako maglaro,” said Fajardo. “Ngayon, goal namin? One game at a time para di masyado marami iniisip…importante, manalo lang talaga.”
Racela said with Fajardo again back to man the frontcourt for Petron, he expects his team to pick up the defensive intensity soon.
The 42-year-old Petron rookie coach after all, acknowledged that it was actually defense that spelled the difference in the Boosters’ last successful title campaign when they ruled the 2011 Governors Cup by beating fancied Talk ‘N Text in the Finals, 4-3.
“It starts from the coaching staff. They know that we need to be a good defensive team to make it far in the PBA. The last time we won a championship, it was defense that brought us there. And that’s what we are reminding them (players),” explained Racela.
With momentum now on their side, the Petron coach said they are ready to pounce on every given opportunity as they look forward of barge into the quarterfinals and perhaps, a twice-to-beat advantage in the playoffs.