MANILA, Philippines – By the time 2023 comes around, young big men Kai Sotto and AJ Edu may very well be the best centers in the Philippines, worthy of leading the national team in FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Yet San Miguel head coach Leo Austria is confident that June Mar Fajardo, the reigning four-time PBA Most Valuable Player, will still be in contention for a spot in the 2023 iteration of Gilas Pilipinas.
Fajardo will be 34 years old by then, and perhaps will not be as dominant as he is now. By then, the 7-foot Sotto – who is only 15 years old right now – may even supplant Fajardo as the best big man in the country.
Still, Austria stressed that the "Kraken" cannot be counted out.
"It will depend during that span of time, kung sino ang magde-develop," Austria said after wrapping up San Miguel Beer's practice on Tuesday afternoon. "But definitely, June Mar Fajardo will be a candidate kung dumating ang oras."
Currently, the 28-year-old Fajardo is among the veterans of the Gilas Pilipinas squad that is trying to qualify to the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. He was impressive in the first qualifying window late last year, powering the Philippines to a close win over Chinese Taipei at the Araneta Coliseum.
Fajardo, together with fellow veterans Jayson Castro and Gabe Norwood, is expected to lead the way for Gilas once again in the second qualifying window, which starts on February 22 against powerhouse Australia.
Yet it is never too early to prepare for the 2023 edition of the event, especially with the Philippines set to be one of the hosts. Thus, Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes came up with the "23 for 23" list, which included the aforementioned Sotto and Edu – towering youngsters who have already represented the country in international tournaments.
"Those players naman, I think malalaki sila at kaya nila 'yung ginagawa ni June Mar," Austria acknowledged.
"But, it will depend on their maturity," the coach quickly added. "Ang international competition is not an easy tournament, especially kalaban mo ang national team."
Moreover, Austria is confident that Fajardo won't make it easy for the national team's coaching staff to leave him off the squad.
"You can never know what will happen," said Austria. "Si June Mar, baka makakuha ng fifth or sixth MVP, so they will think about it."
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