CEBU - With June Mar Fajardo winning a historic fifth PBA MVP award, just how much does the shy kid from Pinamungajan mean to his fellow Cebuanos?
Considering the feat he has accomplished at the age of 29, he's already up there with some of the older Cebuano greats who have picked up the leather.
"I'm sure he has already inspired a lot of kids, not just Cebuanos, to continue pursuing the sport they love," said four-time PBA MVP Ramon Fernandez of the San Miguel slotman.
"He really means a lot to the Cebuanos," Dondon Hontiveros chimed in.
Fernandez and Hontiveros, both considered legends in the Cebu basketball scene, could attest to the effort Fajardo has put in to get to the level he's in.
Fernandez, dubbed as "El Presidente," was one of the mentors of the young Fajardo back in his days at University of Cebu, when he was still a lanky greenhorn.
Hontiveros, meanwhile, had a chance to play against Fajardo in his final years in the PBA as his Alaska side met San Miguel in the finals thrice in four conferences from 2014 and 2015.
And it's really the 6-foot-10 Fajardo's relentless approach to improve which sets him apart from the other superstars in the league, Hontiveros said.
"Maraming nagsasabi up to now na nag-MVP lang si June Mar kasi malaki siya, o dahil nasa San Miguel siya at laging nagcha-champion. But you still have to put the work in. Nandoon pa rin yung process of grinding it out and ganoon si June Mar," said Hontiveros, who now owns the Cebu Max-4 Birada for the upcoming Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 League.
He continued: "Yes, malaki si June Mar pero tingnan mo yung skills niya, pang-international level. And aside from that skill, he's humble enough na gawin pa yung trabaho para mag-improve pa siya. That speaks a lot of June Mar na kahit nasa taas ka na, you don't stop working and you still try to improve because everytime you do that, it inspires yung mga bata na naglu-look up sa kanya."
Fernandez, who is also a commissioner in the Philippine Sports Commission, agreed to that, saying: "Noon pa lang, ganyan na ang sipag niya kaya di na nakakagulat ang mga nakuha niyang achievements kahit bata pa siya."
In Hontiveros' eyes, that tireless trait of Fajardo should be the one emulated the most by young cagers trying their luck in the sport as the soft-spoken giant is a living testament to the ideology that nothing beats hardwork.
"It's very encouraging that a guy like June Mar, who is already a five-time MVP, is still improving his game and is trying to get better," he said.
"It's encouraging, it's inspiring, and I hope na yung mga bata will see his dedication and his discipline to get better every single day kaya siya naging June Mar Fajardo."