FOR someone who’ve seen June Mar Fajardo right from the very start, San Miguel coach Leo Austria sees the young Beerman center dominating the PBA in the years to come.
Even after the 6-foot-10 Fajardo bagged a second straight MVP award in just his third year as a pro, Austria said the young Cebuano big man is bound to get better.
“I told him he’s still going to win a lot of MVP trophies at tsaka championships with the way he’s developed as a player,” said the soft-spoken San Miguel coach, who won his second league title this season following San Miguel’s 4-0 sweep of Alaska in the Governors Cup Finals.
Fajardo of course, had a lot to do with it.
The big man capped a sterling performance in the best-of-seven series by firing away 19 points – including 10 in the pivotal fourth quarter – and grabbing 21 rebounds in the title clinching 91-81 win in Game Four played before a crowd of 14,246 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Fajardo was the consensus PBA Press Corps-Holcim Cement Finals MVP.
The SMB slotman actually hauled off five awards for the night and, with two MVP awards at 24, is on course to match if not surpass the record four MVPs shared by Mon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio.
But Austria never doubted Fajardo would become this big – figuratively – the first time he laid eyes on him when they were with the San Miguel team in the Asean Basketball League (ABL).
“He was very raw then, but makikita mo na yung potential,” recalled Austria, who was then San Miguel deputy coach to the late Bobby Parks when Fajardo played with the team in the fledgling regional league.
“And at that time, it was his first time to play abroad and first time to play outside of the Cebu basketball circuit, kaya medyo nanibago rin siya,” added Austria.
By the time Austria finally called the shots as head coach of San Miguel – and eventually won an ABL title – Fajardo was no longer with the team after deciding to join the Beermen in Asia’s first ever play-for-pay league.
The two ultimately reunited when Austria assumed the San Miguel coaching job at the start of the league’s 40th season.
And what they failed to accomplish together back then was completed, not just once but twice as San Miguel also won the Philippine Cup title earlier.
“That’s why I’m happy na nagkasama kaming muli,” said Austria.