MANILA, Philippines – The upcoming 2020 PBA All-Filipino Cup figures to be a difficult one for defending champion San Miguel Beer, as they navigate the reality of their new situation.
The Beermen are eyeing an unprecedented sixth consecutive title in the conference, but they will have to do so without the most dominant force in the PBA today – reigning Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo.
The "Kraken" is out for the conference – and possibly for the entire season – after suffering a complete fracture in his right tibia during practice early this month. It is a massive blow to San Miguel's hopes of a "six-peat," given how unstoppable Fajardo is during the All-Filipino Conference.
Fajardo has been named the Best Player in the past six editions of the Philippine Cup. In 2019, he averaged 20.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game for the Beermen.
"Actually, talagang mahirap ngayon for SMB," team governor Robert Non said on Tuesday, when the league held a press conference at the Conrad Manila.
"This is the first time na, kumbaga, feeling namin eh kami ngayon ang underdog because of June Mar," he added.
With Fajardo manning the paint, San Miguel was regularly tabbed as favorites to rule the All-Filipino Conference, and they lived up to their billing as favorites for the past five seasons. Without him, however, Non said the team has to make adjustments.
"Ito ang pinakamabigat," Non said. "Normally, mami-miss namin si June Mar, one week. But this time, I don't think he can come back in the second conference, or even the third, kasi matindi 'yung injury niya eh."
Non compared it to the injury suffered by Paul George in August 2014 during a scrimmage with Team USA, when the former Indiana Pacers swingman incurred compound fractures in his right leg after landing on the stanchion.
It took George six months to return from the injury.
For Non, Fajardo's absence gives their other big men a chance to prove their worth to the club.
"Naniniwala pa rin ako na we can come up with something, na kahit wala si June Mar, we can be competitive," he said. "Especially now that we have some adjustments that we're doing in the absence of June Mar."
"Hopefully, it will work, and we'll be there fighting again for the championship," he added.
They are banking on Moala Tautuaa, who was acquired in a trade with NorthPort last season, to step up in Fajardo's absence, along with veterans like Billy Mamaril and even Russel Escoto.
Unfortunately for San Miguel, the injury bug has also bitten Marcio Lassiter and Terrence Romeo, though Non is hoping that they will be available for their season-opener against the Magnolia Hotshots on March 8.
"Ito na siguro 'yung magiging pinakamahirap na season for San Miguel Beer, because June Mar is out," Non said. "But still, we'll still be there, fighting."
"Alam mo naman kami, gusto namin mag-establish ng history. Baka mamaya, masungkit namin ang pang-anim. History na naman 'yan," he added.
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