JMF will be dominant again when the playoffs come
San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria knows that the PBA Philippine Cup will get restarted soon, and that he can’t wait for the playoffs to come around.
That’s because he knows players thrive when the stakes are higher, and sees this as the time when June Mar Fajardo, the league’s only six-time Most Valuable Player, gets his game legs back and again be the unstoppable all-Filipino force this league has ever seen.
“I think, by then, he’ll be, say, 85 to 90 percent,” Austria said of Fajardo, San Miguel’s 6-foot-11 cornerstone who is coming back from a broken shinbone.
It is during the playoffs, Austria believes, that “adrenaline and intensity” drive players the most. And that should help Fajardo quash any remaining hesitation from within that he has not fully recovered from his injury yet.
Fajardo suffered a fracture in his tibia during a team practice just a month before the 2020 season began in March. He was shelved for a significant amount of time, even missing the PBA’s bubble tournament in Pampanga later that year.
His first game cut an image of a player overly eager to pick up where he left off. He muffed his first shots and finished with just five points and five boards in San Miguel’s 93-87 loss to Meralco.
Fajardo then rendered that performance irrelevant, swiftly returning to his double-digit churning self in the Beermen’s succeeding games.
San Miguel has won three straight since then, and Fajardo would’ve finished with more than 16 points and 11 rebounds against Blackwater in a 99-80 win had Austria not decided to field his supporting cast.
“We’re on [pace] with regards to managing his comeback. Also, if you noticed, he was truly instrumental in our last game [against the Bossing],” Austria said.
Wait a little more
“It was evident that he was raring to be involved in every possession of the game,” he added.
So count on Fajardo to be back in tip-top shape when it truly matters.
For now, fans will just have to wait a little longer as the league continues to go under an indefinite break.
The PBA, already 26 games in, is looking to relocate its Philippine Cup in Pampanga province while the capital goes under a two-week hard lockdown as a preemptive measure for another COVID-19 surge.
“It’s just a bit frustrating that we had to go on a pause,” said Austria.
“We were already gaining momentum. We were getting back to our old ways,” he said.
That couldn’t be more fitting for Fajardo.