Newly-crowned San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria considered star center June Mar Fajardo’s knee injury a blessing in disguise because backup big men like Yancy de Ocampo, Gabby Espinas and even JR Reyes were able to show their true worth in the just-concluded Philippine Cup Finals.
The 6-foot-9 De Ocampo, who only played a grand total of 13 games for San Miguel last season, suddenly found himself thrust in the spotlight again when Fajardo went down with a left knee injury in the semifinals against Rain or Shine.
The 2002 top PBA Draft pick didn’t disappoint after submitting solid averages of 9.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists during the Finals.
He scattered 14 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and added 3 assists to help San Miguel pull off a 100-89 win over Alaska in Game 6 and send the series to a winner-take-all showdown.
“I think that’s the best thing that ever happened to our team because when June Mar got sidelined, Yancy stepped up. Gabby Espinas also stepped up and it meant our rotation will be much better (in the future),” Austria said.
Outside De Ocampo, former Alaska forward also came through with a superb backup effort at the slot with Finals averages of 8.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in 23.2 minutes of play
The left-handed former NCAA Rookie of the Year-MVP had his best performance in the Finals when he banged in 21 points and hauled down 14 rebounds to help the Beermen hammer out a 110-104 overtime win in Game 4.
It was a victory that signaled the start San Miguel’s magnificent and historic Finals comeback after going down in the series, 0-3.
On the other hand, the 6-foot-7 Reyes had his own bright moment in the Finals after collecting a personal conference-high 13 points and 7 rebounds in Game 2.
Austria said he expects the 3 big men to help out their import Tyler Wilkerson in the upcoming PBA Commissioner’s Cup while Fajardo completely recovers from his knee injury.
“It’s (De Ocampo and Co. stepping up) good for June Mar because we know he is not yet 100 percent and he has to recuperate from his injury and then undergo rehabilitation to get back to 100 percent,” said Austria, whose team debuts in the mid-season conference against Mahindra on February 20. — By Richard Dy