MANILA, Philippines – The upcoming PBA Philippine Cup will give a chance to the league's other big men to shine, with San Miguel's June Mar Fajardo out with an injury while Barangay Ginebra's Greg Slaughter is taking a sabbatical from the sport.
Their absence opens a spot for other bigs to take center stage for once, even possibly seizing the Best Player of the Conference award that Fajardo has won for the past six seasons.
"Si June Mar talaga 'yung mabigat na bantayan talaga sa PBA," noted Alaska's Vic Manuel. "At saka si Greg, 'di ba?"
"So parang ngayon, nakakahinga ako, kami ng maluwag, 'yung mga big man, kasi nawala sila," he added.
Fajardo, in particular, has been almost unstoppable during the All-Filipino conferences. In 2019, he averaged 20.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game while leading the Beermen to an unprecedented fifth straight Philippine Cup title.
Slaughter was no slouch himself, tallying 13.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for Ginebra.
"Eto na 'yung chance ng ibang teams na 'yun nga, hindi masyadong malalaki 'yung mga players," said TNT KaTropa forward Troy Rosario. "Ngayon, talagang up for grabs 'yung All-Filipino crown."
One big man who is expected to rise to the occasion is NorthPort's Christian Standhardinger, who won the BPC award in last season's Governors' Cup and led the Batang Pier to the semifinals. A trade from San Miguel to NorthPort allowed him to emerge from Fajardo's shadow, and he averaged 17.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in the conference.
A recurring knee issue prevented him from playing for Gilas Pilipinas in the offseason, but Standhardinger said his recovery is right on track.
"Obviously, that (Fajardo and Slaughter's absence) opens up a lot of things for the other big men in this league," the Fil-German center said.
"There are a lot of young big men coming through now, and they have their chance now to really put a name, make a name for themselves," he added.
Other big men like Magnolia's Ian Sangalang, TNT's Poy Erram, and Meralco's Raymond Almazan are tipped to elevate their game as well. Meanwhile, Ginebra's Japeth Aguilar and San Miguel's Moala Tautuaa have been challenged to step up in the absence of their respective teammates.
While they are looking forward to earning a share of the PBA spotlight, the big men also know that both San Miguel and Ginebra remain threats even without Fajardo and Slaughter.
"'Yung Ginebra, 'yung San Miguel, talagang team to beat pa rin 'yan," Manuel said. "Hindi kami pwedeng mag-relax."
"Nothing really changes," added Standhardinger, for his part. "We as a team have to play hard, and we have to figure out how we can translate our great chemistry in the team into a winning culture, and into actually winning games."
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