It was down to a couple more plays before Gilas coach Tab Baldwin was to wrap up their 1st practice this year on Monday night at the Moro Lorenzo gym inside the Ateneo de Manila campus.
His most coveted big man, June Mar Fajardo, the reigning back-to-back PBA MVP, was not in uniform and just watched the practice in civilian clothes.
Fajardo is still not yet at full strength after his recent bout with a left knee injury in the last PBA Philippine Cup Finals. But the fact that the most dominant PBA big man still showed up was a clear manifestation of his commitment.
Baldwin used Fajardo’s best buddy in the national pool, Marc Pingris, to demonstrate the play that will be crucial come July.
“This is how you’re going to attack Rudy Gobert and Ian Mahinmi. Take note of this June Mar,” yelled Baldwin as Fajardo silently but intently watching the play.
Fajardo was not around when China dominated Gilas inside the paint en route to the FIBA Asia gold and the lone direct ticket to the Rio Olympics. Now, Gilas had to earn a long-awaited return trip to the Olympics the hard way.
“Naging pangarap ko na ring makapasok dun sa Olympics since nag-Gilas ako,” Fajardo told FOX Sports.
Barring any serious injury again, Fajardo is tipped to make it to the final 12.
“Ipagdasal lang natin sana healthy lahat, hindi lang ako kundi lahat ng kasama ko sa Gilas kasi mahirap na,” Fajardo said.
A plantar fasciitis injury on his both feet barred him from joining Gilas in the FIBA Asia tournament. But this time, he is really hoping to play for a shot at the Olympics.
“Pina-practice naming ngayon is more on shooting kasi mas malaki ‘yung mga big men ng ibang teams,” Fajardo told FOX Sports.
Fajardo, whose combination of size and skills are never before seen in the PBA, has added a jumper to his offensive arsenal, something which he will rely on when he goes up against France’s twin towers of 7-foot-3 Gobert of the Utah Jazz and 6-foot-11 Mahinmi of the Indiana Pacers, and New Zealand’s 7-foot Steven Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Pina-practice ko talaga mga ‘yun (jump shot) para sa PBA at tingin ko magagamit ko rin pagdating ng FIBA (Olympic) Qualifiers,” Fajardo said.
While he admits that he’s never seen their games in the NBA due to his hectic schedule, he’s excited to size them up but still point out that their team play, not his play alone will be crucial to cut their opponents down to size.
“Hindi ko masyado napapanood ang mga laro nila dahil practice sa umaga tapos sa gabi, maaga naman matulog. Siyempre exciting at opportunity yun na makatapat mo ang mga NBA players tapos hindi lang naman one-on-one ‘yun eh, five-on-five naman so kailangang i-work out namin ang chemistry namin,” Fajardo said.
Gilas will play France in the opener on July 5 then New Zealand the following day.