COACH Leo Austria is beaming with excitement as June Mar Fajardo rejoins San Miguel Beer after a two-month service with Gilas Pilipinas as they enter the crucial phase of preparations for the PBA’s 40th season opening on October 19.
The champion ABL coach sees Fajardo becoming a perennial Most Valuable Player award contender, but is confident the Beermen’s big man will be focusing more on team play having worked with the nation’s best in international tournaments.
“I hope na di 'yun (MVP) ang isipin niya (Fajardo) kung hindi, how to strengthen the team and win the championship, but I’m sure individual awards laging contender na siya, especially since last season, makikita mo na he was not eyeing the award pero nanalo siya ng (MVP) award,” Austria told Spin.ph.
Austria is hoping to see San Miguel end its run of disappointments, go deep in the playoffs and contend for titles behind Fajardo, who he expects to become even better after the experience he gained while playing as back-up to naturalized players Andray Blatche in the Fiba World Cup and Marcus Douthit in the Asian Games, respectively.
Fajardo is coming off a splendid back-up role in the Fiba World Cup in Spain, averaging 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 13 minutes in what appears more like a coming-out party for the Cebuano center after struggling in last year’s Fiba-Asia men’s championships.
The reigning PBA MVP scored 15 points, grabbed nine rebounds and added two steals in Gilas’ 81-79 overtime win over Senegal to help book the country’s first victory in the Fiba World Cup since 1974.
“For me, maganda yung performance niya dun eh (Fiba World Cup) sa plus-minus efficiency,” noted the 56-year-old Austria, who is back in the PBA coaching scene since handling the Welcoat Dragons (Rain or Shine) from 2006-2008.
“Even against Senegal, nabigyan siya ng chance to play longer because na-injured si Ranidel (De Ocampo) at nag-graduate si Blatche, so yung experience na yun makakatulong na sa kanya yun,” he added.
Austria believes Fajardo’s strong showing in limited playing minutes in the world championships validates his status as an emerging international big man.
“Yung international, talagang mako-confirm yun na he deserves to play (in the international arena) and he belongs,” said Austria.
Aside from winning last season’s MVP, Fajardo was also named the league’s Most Improved Player, as well as being part of the Mythical First Team and All-Defensive team after averaging PBA career-high numbers of 16.7 points, 14.1 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.3 assists in more than 35 minutes of action.