By Jonas Terrado
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel coach Tim Cone admitted that June Mar Fajardo’s injury has changed the complexion of the PBA Philippine Cup which starts March 1.
“Needless to say, that opens up the race,” Cone said when asked to react on Fajardo’s fractured right shin that will force the San Miguel Beermen star to miss at least the whole duration of the season-opening conference.
SMB was still considered to have a strong chance of winning an unprecedented sixth consecutive Philippine Cup title until Fajardo got hurt during Monday’s practice at the Acropolis Gym.
Fajardo underwent surgery the following day, his timetable for a return still unsure.
As much as he considers Fajardo’s injury a big opening Ginebra needs, Cone also couldn’t help but feel bad for their sister team.
“That’s tragic for our organization,” said Cone. “He’s the face of our flagship team plus the mainstay of our national team. Truly, truly hate to see that.”
Magnolia coach Chito Victolero was also quick to console with Fajardo, yet the development doesn’t mean that his team has also improved its chances of claiming the season’s most important tournament.
“Nandiyan man si June Mar o wala, one team lang yan e,” said Victolero, whose Hotshots were beaten by the Beermen in the last two editions of the Philippine Cup Finals. “I mean, there are 10 more teams na kailangan namin ipag-prepare. They are the defending champions and malaking factor kung maglalaro or hindi maglalaro si June Mar.
“But you know, there’s Ginebra, there’s TNT KaTropa, there’s NLEX, there’s NorthPort, there’s Columbian which is right now a very strong team because of its rookies and CJ Perez, so wala kang pwedeng ibalewala diyan.
“So we need to prepare hard for each team. But again, big factor yan kung makakalaro man o hindi si June Mar,” Victolero added.
Rain or Shine coach Caloy Garcia, on the other hand, still sees SMB as a favorite, though stressed that other teams have improved.
He even called Ginebra as perhaps the top team of the tournament following Fajardo’s setback.
“I think San Miguel remains the top team. It’s sad about what happened to June Mar, but the other teams got better,” he said.
“Magnolia got better, NorthPort got better, Ginebra probably will be the top seed without June Mar there so halos lahat naman ng teams lumakas.”