EVEN if he already owns six MVP awards in the PBA, June Mar Fajardo will never forget his very first game in the league.
Fajardo’s first game in the PBA came in October 3, 2012 when the Petron Blaze Boosters battled the Rain or Shine Elastopainters. But Fajardo said his first game was memorable not because he played great but because it was a real baptism of fire.
In that game, the 6-foot-10 Fajardo had to battle Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao's bruising tandem of Beau Belga and JR Quinahan, who by then had earned fame, and notoriety, as the Extra Rice Inc.
The gentle Cebuano giant had a decent game after contributing nine points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks. But Fajardo was the first to admit that he got banged up all game long by Belga and Quinahan.
Petron also lost that game by a wide margin, 102-86.
“Nung na-draft na ako, first game namin sa PBA, kalaban namin Rain or Shine,” Fajardo recalled in a recent SPIN Sidelines episode. “‘Yung Extra Rice brothers, pinipisikal nila ako. Parang sobrang sakit ng katawan ko. Naiintimidate ako. Hindi lang naintimidate, natakot ako. Sobrang pisikal.
“Pag-uwi ko ng bahay, sobrang sakit ng katawan ko,” he added with a smile.
Although it was a highly-physical game, Fajardo took the pounding in stride saying he understood that it was Belga and Quinahan’s way of welcoming him to the PBA. Perhaps a rude reception, but a reception nonetheless.
“Hindi naman sa sinasadya nila. Parang gusto lang nila iparamdam na ito ang PBA so, ‘Welcome sa PBA,’” said Fajardo.
Fajardo is now in the conversation of GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) candidates in the league, but the truth was he struggled to find his feet in the PBA.
The University of Cebu product averaged 12.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in his rookie year, but Fajardo said he was far from satisfied with his performance that season, particularly in his first two conferences.
Fajardo, however, was determined to improve his game, using bashers on social media as a fuel to become better.
“Gusto ko lang mag-improve at may patunayan sa sarili,” Fajardo said. “Di ba first pick ako sa draft pero parang sobrang daming haters. Hindi maganda ‘yung first conference ko pati ‘yung second conference. Na-injured pa ako nung second conference ko. Sabi ng mga keyboard warriors, wala talaga.
“Parang dahil doon, hindi na ako nag-Facebook para hindi ko na mabasa. Sabi ko kailangan ko ma-improve sarili ko,” said Fajardo.
The Gilas Pilipinas mainstay has definitely come a long way from that bruising first game against Belga and Quinahan. But Fajardo said he didn't do it on his own.
“Thankful din ako sa mga taong nag-guide sa akin. May binibigay talaga si God na mga tao sa atin para i-guide tayo. Kailangan lang natin hanapin kung sino ‘yun. Kapag nakita mo ‘yun, mag-stick ka doon.
"Alam mo naman kung ano ‘yung mga tinuturo nila. Kung sincere sila sa mga tinuturo nila, malalaman mo naman ‘yun eh. Nasa sayo na kung paano i-handle ‘yun at paano mag-adapt,” said Fajardo.