Now more than ever, the injury-hit San Miguel Beermen are determined to go for their sixth straight PBA Philippine Cup crown.
Five-time MVP June Mar Fajardo underwent surgery after sustaining a “complete fracture on his right tibia” during team practice last Feb. 3, sidelining him indefinitely, but the team is motivated to win this coming All-Filipino for their injured star.
“Noong umpisa medyo mababa ang morale pero next few hours, tumaas ulit. Medyo na-inspire sila, parang ‘let’s do this for June Mar’, he helped us a lot in winning the (previous) championship,” said coach Leo Austria.
“In the last two practices (without Fajardo), nag-respond naman ang players,” he noted.
SMB is hardpressed to cover for the Cebuano behemoth, who accounted for averages of 18.7 points, 13 rebounds and 1.5 block last season.
“It’s really hard for us because in the past five years, alam naman natin na cornerstone si June Mar, he helped us a lot in winning championships. Pero gaya ng sinabi ko sa team, San Miguel is not June Mar and everybody must step up,” said the multi-titled coach.
The biggest burden now lies on the shoulders of Mo Tautuaa, Fajardo’s chief backup.
“I think si Tautuaa is one big man na pwedeng pumalit sa role but alam naman natin na napakalaking role ni June Mar and Mo needs the help and support of the team,” said Austria.
“Mo has started to step up, maganda naman ang response niya and he’s trying his best to help the team. And the good thing is everybody is willing to help. June Mar is June Mar, nobody can really fill in his position, so it will take a collective effort,” he added.
After Tautuaa, whom SMB acquired from NorthPort in exchange for Christian Standhardinger in the Governors’ Cup elims, the Beermen have seldom used Billy Mamaril and youthful Russel Escoto in the current roster.