Leader of the band
Leo Austria remains in high spirits despite being locked down for more than two months now and even with his San Miguel Beermen still not being able to return to Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) action.
“I’m good,” he told the Inquirer in a recent phone interview. “Bored, but staying healthy.”
And so are his Beermen, whom he continues to monitor on a consistent basis as he gets help from other members of his staff and the team’s conditioning coaches and trainers.
“They are very responsible with their conditioning, their health,” Austria said, even as he reported that reigning six-time most valuable player (MVP) June Mar Fajardo has shown some progress in his recovery after leg surgery.
Austria said Fajardo is able to do some walking inside his home—in crutches, of course.
He debunked reports saying that Fajardo was already doing some running.
“Totally not true. Maybe he was just joking around—he loves doing that; but he is very conscious with his health and wants a speedy recovery,” said Austria, who added that the 6-foot-10 San Miguel cornerstone looks a “little thin these days because he watches his diet to keep his weight in check and help his recovery.”
“He knows that he can’t put too much weight on that surgically repaired leg,” Austria said of Fajardo, the only player to win the MVP an unprecedented six straight seasons and who definitely would have seen that streak come to a halt had the coronavirus pandemic not threatened to cancel the rest of the 45th season after just one game.
Austria, though, said that Fajardo is a bit lonely staying in Metro Manila, having missed a flight back to Cebu province before the lockdown was imposed.
“He told me that it’s a pity he wasn’t able to join the rest of his family on the flight back home.”
Together with his parents, Fajardo attended the awarding ceremonies during the league’s opening day and received his trophy while riding an e-cart. The lockdown was ordered a few days after.
Austria also has streaks going: five straight Philippine Cup titles, and the coach of the year (COTY) award from the PBA Press Corps in four of the last five seasons.
He couldn’t care less about the last one; what he wants is for the PBA to have a conclusion to its season and for his Beermen to have a shot at that sixth consecutive championship—with or without Fajardo.
“It only poisons your mind if you think of individual awards,” Austria said, referring to his chance to win the COTY again and tie the retired Chot Reyes for the all-time record.
“It’s really never been my goal before any season. The team always comes first, and that’s the mentality of this entire team that’s why we are successful.”
“Why not?” Austria said when asked if playing during this pandemic—granting that the government eases quarantine restrictions and approves the holding of sporting events again—would be a good idea.
“As long as the safety of everyone is assured, because even if just one person inside the coliseum is a carrier [of the virus], then that would be a disaster.
“I’d like to echo the line of our boss, Ramon Ang: Mas mahalaga ang buhay,” he said. INQ
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