Fajardo absence fires up teammates


    SAN Miguel Beer’s confidence waned when prized center June Mar Fajardo was sidelined by injury. But not that much.

    In fact, the Beermen’s determination to annex a sixth straight PBA Philippine Cup title got stoked up even more even though they know it’s going to be harder this time around.

    “There are a lot of teams counting us out, but we’re here, we’re working hard and we have enough talent to compete and win the championship,” said SMB guard Chris Ross.

    “Mas mahirap lang siguro ngayon dahil nga wala si June Mar,” Arwind Santos chimed in. “Pero iyon ang klase ng hamon na hindi namin aatrasan. Kumbaga, mas malaking challenge mas masarap ang pakiramdam kapag na-overcome mo, di ba?

    The Beermen have dedicated their campaign in the league’s 45th season kicking off on March 8 to Fajardo, who suffered a fracture on his right shin bone last week and is expected to be out for at least the next five months.

    Fajardo’s injury prompted SMB to look for another big man to fill the void but so far has had no luck from either free agency or trade.

    “Lahat kasi ng teams kailangan ng big man. Sa free agency, wala akong makita,” said coach Leo Austria.  “May mga nagpapahayag ng interest sa amin. The problem is, nag-expire ang contract nila pero wala naman silang release so ‘yung rights nila, nasa mother team pa rin nila.”

    For now, Austria will have to do with Mo Tautuaa and Billy Mamaril as the only real centers in his team and a new mind-set as the rest of the Beermen try to make up for the team-best averages of 18.87 points and 13.0 rebounds Fajardo posted last season.

    “The scoring and rebounding shifted to more than one person, but when it’s all said and done, we’re still a team and we gotta keep going,” said Tautuaa, totally unfazed by his new role as SMB’s starting center.

    “It’s just time for me to step up, just continue to play basketball and help the team as much as I can,” added the 30-year-old Fil-Tongan.

    It’s all about total team effort, insisted Ross. “As far as the team goes, we’re full of vets and injuries are part of the game. We all just have to step up,” he said.

    “Whoever’s been here, the new guys, up to the coaches, we all believe it. It’s just adjusting a bit, assigning different roles, and playing a little bit different, and we’ll go from there,” added Ross.

    “We’re happy with the talent that we have right now. I feel like we’re still good enough to compete for the championship.”