Usually very taciturn, the luminary of Gilas Pilipinas and cornerstone of San Miguel June Mar Fajardo had a lot to say when asked about the possibility of playing another Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup.
“I am in good health. I will be on the trip to Europe,” he told the Inquirer in Filipino as he had his knees wrapped in ice packs shortly after training at Meralco Gym in Pasig City “I expect to be fully cleared (by doctors) this week to participate in all kinds of on-court activities.
“It’s just my conditioning that I’m working on right now.”
Nicknamed the ‘Kraken’, Fajardo suffered a left knee injury at the start of Beermen’s campaign in the East Asian Super League Champions Week last March. This injury kept him out of the club’s bid for the PBA Governors’ Cup and ultimately Gilas’ gold medal redemption run at the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) in Cambodia.
Fajardo, the PBA’s only six-time MVP, first saw World Cup action in Seville, Spain – his kind of night out – in 2014 when the five national cornerstones were naturalized Andray Blatche. The Philippines team earned an 81-79 overtime victory over Senegal as Fajardo netted a dunk and two key charities in the final minutes.
going out party
The 6-foot-10 Fajardo was the most improved player that year, an award that went with an MVP trophy that sparked that six-game streak.
Having played in two World Cups, Fajardo flashed an even wider smile when asked to pull off a sort of personal hat-trick in the global showcase that the Philippines will co-host with Japan and Indonesia in a bit more. two months.
“I’m really happy, you know, to still be included in the preparations for the World Cup,” he said. “I’m really lucky to have played in two. And playing in a third? It really excites me.
As well as Fajardo, Barangay Ginebra striker Japeth Aguilar is also set to feature in a third successive World Cup, having also played for Reyes Spain and then Yeng Guiao in Foshan, China five years later.
As he grew nostalgic, the big man from Minglanilla in Cebu realized how far he and his pal Aguilar had come: “We are the kuyas (older guys) now.”
“But you know, the youngest [in this pool] are just as capable,” he added.
Record attendance expected
Of the first 21 players who formed the group for this World Cup, 12 are not yet 30 years old. But each is no stranger to the kind of game that awaits them when the big events kick off on August 25 with the Filipinos set to play in front of a Fiba record crowd at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
“These guys have played overseas. In places like Japan and Korea and international tournaments,” Fajardo said of the team’s young players.
“The battle ahead won’t be easy, but I know we’re all going to do everything from preparation to conditioning to play well,” he said.
Gilas’ rise to prominence kicked into high gear on Monday as Reyes and his team focused on fitness, pace of play and assimilating AJ Edu and Rhenz Abando into the system.
The nationals are due to train and bond at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, this Sunday before departing for Europe on June 22 for a series of tune-up matches against the national teams of Estonia, Finland and Latvia, as well as professional clubs from Lithuania.
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