With double-double effort, SMB’s six-time MVP smoothens transition from Austria to Gallent

San Miguel star June Mar Fajardo had no problems adjusting to life without “Pops,” producing 19 points and 13 rebounds against Phoenix. —PBA IMAGES

San Miguel star June Mar Fajardo had no problems adjusting to life without “Pops,” producing 19 points and 13 rebounds against Phoenix. —PBA IMAGES

San Miguel Beer took the first leap into its new world without seasoned tactician Leo Austria at the coaching helm and the team seemed okay with the new setup—at least, on Sunday night.

The Beermen kicked off their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup campaign on a high note with a bevy of players chipping in to smother Phoenix, 114-93, but the more important thing that emerged from the Ynares Center in Antipolo City was the comfort level of the team’s stars regarding the coaching change.

Most notably, one very important star.

“How we played the game was OK so far,” the club’s cornerstone, June Mar Fajardo, told the Inquirer after the game. “Practices have been OK as well. I just hope we can sustain this.”

Fajardo, who truly blossomed under Austria, didn’t seem to mind no longer having “Pops” hollering instructions from the sidelines.

“As with ‘Pops,’ he’s still with the team, so we still get to see him. I’m happy for him. He gets to relax and I think he gets to play more [recreational] basketball at his place,” added the soft-spoken center, who turned into a six-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) and a nine-time champion under the tutelage of the affable Austria.

Key players

Aside from Fajardo’s 19 points and 13 rebounds, four more players proved key for the Beermen. CJ Perez, Marcio Lassiter, new guy Allyn Bulanadi, and eventual player of the game Simon Enciso all had twin-digit scores in the victory.

Cameron Clark, the import who last played in the PBA for the NLEX franchise, top-scored with 23 points that went with seven rebounds, playing well alongside Fajardo, the perennial starting point of San Miguel’s attack.

The performance could have been an offshoot of the minimal transition it took to play under new coach Jorge Gallent, who has already called the shots in seven of the club’s games—counting two playoff games—during the previous Commissioner’s Cup.

Whatever the reason was, that fine collective outing muted the speculations hovering over Austria’s appointment to a less hands-on role.

However, there are still cracks that need to be paved over.

“Not yet. Maybe in a few weeks or in a few days,” Gallent said during the postgame interview when asked whether he has reached out to his predecessor.

Polishing needed

For now, San Miguel is focusing on polishing its game in its bid to annex a second crown this season. And they have every reason to do so especially after letting a 33 point-cushion shrink into just 10 in the payoff period.

“That’s common with teams once they’re up huge,” Fajardo said. “I’m just glad that we were able to pick up the intensity and still managed to get the win. That’s something nice for us.”

San Miguel gets back to work against Blackwater on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said he has slapped Magnolia deputy Johnny Abarrientos a P10,000 fine for flipping the middle finger on Converge import Jamaal Franklin during Sunday’s curtain-raiser.

“He was remorseful when we talked about [the incident] earlier this morning. He was saying sorry several times,” the league chief told the Inquirer over the phone.

For his part, Franklin isn’t one to make a mountain out of a molehill. The NBA veteran said he was unfazed by the gesture that was caught on national television.

“Me and the coaches have no problems,” he told reporters after a 26-point, 13-rebound performance that helped Converge to a 111-109 win. INQ