MANILA, Philippines -- San Miguel Beer's bid for an unprecedented sixth consecutive All-Filipino Championship looks bleak, after the centerpiece of the team suffered an injury that will keep him from playing in the conference.
June Mar Fajardo, the reigning PBA Most Valuable Player who has anchored San Miguel's dominance of the Philippine Cup, fractured the tibia in his right leg during practice in early February, and was ruled out of the 2020 All-Filipino Conference. There is a good possibility that he will miss the entire season.
Without Fajardo, the rest of the field in the PBA has grown more confident. More than one coach has deemed the race "wide open" this year, especially with Ginebra's Greg Slaughter taking a sabbatical from the league. Fans and pundits feel that this is as good a time as any to knock San Miguel off the Philippine Cup throne.
"They say that every year," San Miguel's veteran point guard, Chris Ross, noted wryly. "They've been saying that for the last four years."
Ross shook his head as he recalled the comments made about their team, even as they continued to dominate the All-Filipino conference. He remembered how their first championship was considered "a fluke."
"After the second one, I think it was the Beeracle, it was another fluke," he said, referring to their historic comeback from a 0-3 deficit against Alaska to repeat as champions.
After that, the excuse became different. "Automatically, we're too old to win," said Ross.
"So it's always a different, something different every year that is thrown in our way, and we find a way to conquer that obstacle," he added.
Fajardo's injury is a massive, massive obstacle, he admitted, but Ross has full confidence in the team that they have right now. Even without the "Kraken," San Miguel still has a lot of All-Stars -- including himself. They have a former MVP in Arwind Santos, a scoring dynamo in Terrence Romeo, and former Finals MVPs in Ross and Alex Cabagnot. They also have one of the finest shooters in the league in Marcio Lassiter.
Ross further believes that Fajardo's absence will give Moala Tautuaa -- whom they acquired in a trade with NorthPort last year -- the opportunity to fully live up to his potential.
"The challenge is huge," he acknowledged. "But we have enough talent to compete, and we have enough talent to win."
"And the good thing about is, everyone in our gym is up to the challenge. There's some times where a challenge is presented that the person the challenge is presented to is not up for the challenge," he noted.
"But the good thing for us is everyone's up for the challenge, and everyone's looking at the challenge and ready to go head on with it."
The rest of San Miguel's roster has heard what analysts and fans have said about them, once Fajardo went down with an injury. For Ross, this just fuels their drive even further, and gives their team even more motivation.
"Now, everyone is writing us off," he said. "At the beginning, people were writing us off, and then now they're kinda saying, 'Oh no, San Miguel is still kind of the team to beat. They have enough talent.'"
"But we heard what they said when the injury happened," Ross warned.
"We'll be ready, and we'll be right there."
San Miguel opens its title defense on Sunday, against the Magnolia Hotshots -- the same team that they beat in seven games in last year's All-Filipino finals.
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