(Photo from Sun.Star Cebu/Arni Aclao)
Basketball I watched the other night. At the Old Cebu Coliseum, the Enervon/UC Webmasters dribbled against the Maria Sanctuary Park/USJ-R Jaguars in Game 3 of the CESAFI-sanctioned Partners Cup.
Ramon Fernandez, a four-time MVP at the PBA, sat to my left together with his wife, Karla Kintanar, while Chao Sy, the owner of Hotel Fortuna and the man financing the SWU squad in this event, sat to my right.
Our four pairs of eyes enlarged. Fronting us stood a being so large; a gargantuan figure who towered like the Taipei 101. Standing 6’9”, ask him to point his arms to the ceiling and he’ll nearly touch the 10-foot-tall ring. With just one little hop and an orange ball on hand, he’d slam-dunk.
June Mar Fajardo, all of 19 years young, is his name and, playing for team University of Cebu, what an Incredible Hulk. No, he’s not brawny and all-muscle—not yet—but the way he monopolizes the game is unlike anything I’ve seen.
Greg Slaughter, last year, I observed for a few games with his UV squad. Standing 7-feet in height, Slaughter is taller and heftier but Fajardo is more agile, quick-witted and, in my view, more domineering.
Last Tuesday, the UC Webmasters beat the USJ-R Jaguars, 96-88, to reach the finals. The reason? One titan: JMF. When the game see-sawed in the fourth quarter, the Atty. Augusto Go-owned team had all but one play: Pass to June Mar. And how it worked. In those 10 minutes of the final quarter, he scored 15 points. In all, he top-scored with 39 points. The 15 points June Mar scored in the fourth quarter? That’s more than the score of his team’s second-best scorer, Edward Pao, who made 14.
At the low post, where Fajardo would cement his feet, he’s unrelenting. Guarded by a USJ-R center nearly half-a-foot shorter, Fajardo would recline his back, dribble two bounces, turn around, then skyhook. Swoosh!
An inbounds pass from his teammate? No problem. He’d catch it midair then effortlessly drop the rubber ball for an easy two-pointer. On another play, he was double-teamed, lost the ball in a scuffle, retrieved it from the parquet floor, then turned around for an 8-footer.
Dunk? Of course! On one play, he faced his back on the ring, jumped, then twisted to deliver a monstrous dunk. Kabbooom!
In the middle of all this ruthless display of offense, I turned to Mon Fernandez and asked, “Fajardo in the PBA?”
Within a split-second and as if to say, “What a question, John!” Mon answered, “For sure!”
But if there’s one area that Fajardo, an HRM student who hails from Pinamungahan, Cebu, needs to improve it’s the free throw. From the several attempts on that 15-foot line that I observed, June Mar missed plenty. Which made me whisper to Chao Sy, “Why not foul him as soon as he gets the ball and do a Hack-a-Shaq?” (Hack-a-Shaq, if you recall, was the strategy of Shaquille O’Neal’s opponents to foul the 50-percent-foul-shooter so he can miss free-throws.)
To me, and if I were the USJ-R Jaguars’ coach, it was the one obvious strategy against a leviathan like Fajardo who, when within 10 feet away from the ring, was almost sure to score.
How about his defense? It was compelling. The Jaguars penetrated—then would retreat. He blocked more shots than I’ve ever seen in a ballgame. His mere 6-foot-9 presence at the center scared the enemies.
FINALS. With the other semi-finals game between Prime Asia-UV and Hotel Fortuna-SWU, I only watched the first half. In the end, after UV led by as much as 14 points in the first quarter, the Green Lancers’ fortunes were beaten by Hotel Fortuna, 76-69.
Though I sat a foot away from Chao Sy, I secretly wished that UV would win. The reason: Imagine a 7-foot behemoth in Slaughter guarding a 6-foot-9 giant Fajardo?
“TWIN TOWERS!” the headline will read.
It wasn’t to be. By night’s end, only one giant was left standing.