Cone welcomes PBA big man back, but it’s not Slaughter
Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone was the first Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) personality to toast news of June Mar Fajardo’s clearance to play again.
He was also the first to acknowledge what Fajardo being back exactly means for the Gin Kings and their fans: A big challenge.
The Kings benefited the most in Fajardo’s absence in the bubble last year, as Ginebra didn’t have to face the five-time Philippine Cup champion San Miguel Beermen in the playoffs on the way to the championship.
“Happy to have [June Mar] back in the league [and] ready to play,” Cone wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Always a tremendous challenge.”
Cone’s remarks came on the heels of San Miguel Corp. sports director Alfrancis Chua’s announcement on Saturday that the six-time most valuable player has been cleared by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Raul Canlas to be fit for action.
“He’s OK. We’re expecting him to play next conference, next season,” Chua said. “He’s also expecting [to play]. His wounds would still require attention, maybe because of hygiene. But the leg itself, Dr. Canlas already gave the go signal to play.”
The San Miguel cornerstone broke his shinbone during practice in February—an injury that ruled him out for at least a conference just for initial rehabilitation. But it dragged on because of the lockdown.
Leaner and meaner
Fajardo was only able to walk without crutches around in May and got adequate therapy by midyear. He returned to shooting hoops around October, before moving to treadmill sessions the following month.
By December, the 6-foot-11 center, visibly leaner and ripped, posted a photo on social media of himself and his brother, Jay, on bikes.
The Inquirer tried reaching out to Fajardo and his San Miguel coach, Leo Austria, but both have yet to respond as of press time.
But just how big of a deal is Fajardo returning to action?
“It’s tough if June Mar was there,” Chua, who also serves as Ginebra’s team governor, said when asked if Fajardo was there in the bubble.
“I’m not saying that Ginebra wouldn’t have beat San Miguel, because they already did that [in the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup],” he added.
Nothing new with Greg
“But things would really be different with [June Mar] around,” Chua admitted.
That could also be the reason why Cone is also intent on regaining Greg Slaughter, whose relationship with the team’s brass turned sour following a sudden sabbatical, which the Filipino-American announced just days after Fajardo’s injury.
“I would love to have Greg back on the team, and that would help Japeth [Aguilar] out in terms of giving him a break and we could be a little bit more creative in the way we play,” Cone said, just moments after winning the all-Filipino crown last December in Clark Freeport.
Cone, in fact, went as far as saying “there would be no dramatic changes” within the Ginebra roster aside from regaining Slaughter and of course, their resident import, Justin Brownlee, for the next season.
Slaughter has since cleared the air about his decision and expressed remorse over the “miscommunication” with the Gin Kings’ management brought on by his move.
Chua said he is amenable to sit down with their former center to “hear his reasons out.”
The 7-foot Slaughter, who was picked first overall by Ginebra in 2013, has always been tipped as the biggest rival to Fajardo—a lofty billing which never really got affirmation in the all-Filipino.
The last time San Miguel and Ginebra faced off in the Philippine Cup Finals was in 2017, but the Gin Kings missed Slaughter due to a knee ligament tear.
Still, there’s no denying that the return of the league’s two top big men would add spice to the PBA’s 46th season, which hopes to have at least two conferences despite the threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic. INQ
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