SMB still tough sans June Mar
Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Challengers to San Miguel Beer’s PBA Philippine Cup crown won’t make the mistake of counting out the five-peat champs who are hit hard by the absence of injured star June Mar Fajardo.

“Hindi natin pwedeng sabihin bale wala na ang San Miguel because of (the absence of) June Mar. They have a lot of talented players, very experienced players na alam paano manalo. Team to be beat pa rin ang San Miguel,” Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, whose team placed runner-up to SMB the last two seasons, said during yesterday’s PBA Media Day at Okada.

His sentiment was echoed by NorthPort center Christian Standhardinger, a former Beerman tipped to shine bright this season with Fajardo sidelined indefinitely by a fractured shin.

“San Miguel is still a great, great team. They have so many pieces, so much talent over there. I’m sure coach Leo (Austria) can figure something out without June Mar,” said Standhardinger, the Best Player of the Conference in the recent Governors’ Cup.

Meralco’s Norman Black, who will also be missing his still-recovering top center Raymond Almazan for five more weeks, said Fajardo isn’t the only winning component in the SMB machine.

“They still have good players. They’re not a one-man team so I think they’ll still be very competitive,” said Black.

TNT coach Bong Ravena, whose team is tagged as one of the favorites in the tournament that kicks off March 8, said even with the absence of Fajardo and Barangay Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter (taking a break), the Beermen and the Kings remain strong.

“Ang mindset namin is walang mahinang team. Even though yung nangyari kay June Mar, kay Greg, our mindset is malakas pa rin sila,” said Ravena.

Austria admitted this would be a challenging title defense.

“It’s hard to play without June Mar but I have confidence sa players because of our past experience. Magba-bank kami sa pride and experience,” said Austria, who will lean on big man Mo Tautuaa and the seasoned core of Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos and Terrence Romeo in filling up the huge void.           

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