Sky is the limit for Petron's sponge-like Fajardo

Alder Almo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Beau Belga walked away without a word after emerging from the Rain or Shine dugout on Wednesday night.

He was in no mood to discuss Junemar Fajardo’s career game.

Belga did not have his Extra Rice partner JR Quinahan, who is suffering from an Achilles tendonitis, when Fajardo punished him and the Elasto Painters with a career-high 26 points and 14 rebounds. 

Fidel Mangonon III, head of the PBA stats, nailed it right when he noted that Fajardo alone outscored the entire Rain or Shine team in the 2nd chance points, 14-12.

Even Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao is having trouble finding an antidote to the 6-10 rookie from Cebu.

“Kulang kami sa malaki talaga, especially if Beau is in foul trouble. The next guy after Beau is Jervy (Cruz) and Larry (Rodriguez), masyado nang maliit para kay Junemar,”Guiao told a couple of reporters almost one hour after absorbing his third straight loss at the hands of his former assistant coach and now Petron rookie mentor Gee Abanilla.

“Ang hirap kasing magpalaki in three days eh, hindi kaya ng vitamins,” Guiao said in jest when asked about their plan for Junemar in Game Three. “Kung makakakita kami ng mangkukulam, ipapakulam na lang namin.”

While Guiao still found a humor in trying to unlock the Fajardo mystery, the 23-year old young center is dead serious in trying to become the most dominant center the league has ever seen.

The league’s two-time MVP Danny Ildefonso is a first-hand witness to Fajardo’s growth since his Day One in the PBA.

“Pinaghihirapan ng bata yung ginagawa niya. At least nakikita niya na nagbubunga ang hard work niya,” Ildefonso told Philstar.com on Wednesday, two nights after he boldly predicted that two years will be a long time for Fajardo to become the league’s MVP.

Abanilla readily agreed.

“I think there’s some truth to that,” the rookie head coach said.

“Ang improvement ni Junemar napakabilis. Para siyang sponge na lahat ng ituro mo sa kaniya, talagang iniisip niya at ginagawa niya. I think yung sinabi ni D.I. (Danny Ildefonso) na yun hindi malayong mangyari yun.”

The scary part is the fact that Fajardo had only learned the nuances of the game in his college years at the University of Cebu.

The late bloomer is just starting to scratch the surface of his full potential.

“Marami pa siyang i-improve,” Ildefonso said.

Everytime Fajardo eats up Belga’s defense, Ildefonso comically puts his hand in his mouth to show that his student, The Kraken has eaten the Extra Rice.

On a serious note, Petron’s American team consultant Todd Purves sees a very bright future ahead of the young big man.  

“Junemar has the size and he’s young.  I don’t want to put any type of expectations on Junemar other than get better each day,” said American Todd Purves, who is currently Petron’s team consultant and also the Memphis Grizzlies scout in Asia.

“The fact that he gets to work everyday and tries to get better, sky’s the limit for him. He just needs more experience,” he added.

“It’s not that he’s lacking in a particular area, it’s just a matter of experience to get more touches so that he gets more familiar with his back-to-the-basket post game and defensively, as he continues to learn rotations, he’ll get better being in right position to get more blocked shots.”

Fajardo may be one more FIBA Asia or FIBA World Cup breakout tournament away from becoming the first full-blooded Filipino to play in the NBA.

 â€œMatagal-tagal na tayong wala talagang big guy na imposing. Alam mo naman sa basketball, height is might. Si Junemar, aside sa mga skills na meron siya, yung pagiging coachable niya napakalaking bagay. So I think yung height side niya, we’re very fortunate to have someone like him, 6-10, maganda ang attitude,” Abanilla said.  â€œI think in the future mas makakatulong ito para sa national team.”

But right now, those are farthest in Fajardo’s mind.

He’s not even thinking of the Rookie of the Year honors where he is making a strong case to dislodge Alaska rookie beast Calvin Abueva in the race.

“Hindi ko iniisip yun. Mas iniisip ko na mag-champion kami, happy lahat. Aanhin ko ba ang Rookie of the Year award kung ako lang ang makikinabang,” said the towering young man, whose feet still touch the ground.  

Can you blame Belga, the brute Rain or Shine enforcer, if he feels sorry for himself for getting the toughest job of giving tough love to this lovable young kid?










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