Historically, the country’s national basketball team, Gilas Pilipinas, has encountered rough sailing with teams under the SMC umbrella.
It comes as no surprise thought since Gilas’ chief backer is the MVP Group, which happens to be a rival in more ways than one of the SMC Group.
While the two giant conglomerates are in different industries, MVP mainly on utilities while SMC is mostly on food and beverages, the business rivalry has none-the-less spilled on to the PBA hardcourt and is as heated as ever.
During the preparation for the 2015 FIBA Cup, then known as the FIBA Asia Championship, 4 players from SMC teams were named to the 24-man Gilas pool. June Mar Fajardo and Marcio Lassiter from the San Miguel Beermen, Marc Pingris from Star and LA Tenorio from Brgy Ginebra.
The Beermen had just won the Governors’ Cup via four-game sweep of the Alaska Aces while Fajardo was named as the Season and Finals MVP.
Now a few were expecting great things ahead for Gilas with the inclusion of the dominant Fajardo and the sweet-shooting Lassiter. Both coming from exceptional performances in the Finals.
When the Final 12 was announced however, only 1 player from the three SMC teams made it. And he wasn’t from SMB.
Tenorio begged off due to fatigue, Lassiter was in the US dealing with an illness in the family, while Fajardo has plantar fasciitis on both feet. Pingris initially backed-out as well as he was in France for the burial of his stepmom but rejoined the team upon his return.
Pingris made it to the team along with Andray Blatche, Calvin Abueva, Terrence Romeo, Gabe Norwood, JC Intal, Asi Taulava, Dondon Hontiveros, Jayson Castro, Sonny Thoss, Ranidel de Ocampo and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser.
The team was coached by Tab Baldwin at that time and despite missing key names in the roster finished a strong second behind host China.
Would we have fared better had the 3 SMC players played? We’ll never know.
Fast forward to 2017 and the SBP has reassigned Chot Reyes to handle the team. Gilas took part in the 39th William Jones Cup as part of its build-up and finished 4th behind Canada, Lithuania and South Korea.
San Miguel won the Philippine Cup and the Commissioner’s Cup and is on the verge of a rare Grand Slam. The Beermen opened the Governors’ Cup with back-to-back wins. The second of which was a 97-91 victory over bitter rival TNT. Fajardo was adjudged as Best Player of the Game following a dominating performance of 27 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocks.
Fajardo seemed to be in full strength when tragedy struck, for the second time in 2 years.
SMB team governor Robert Non announced that June Mar Fajardo won’t be able to play in the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup due to a strained calf muscle. To make things worse, the announcement came on the eve of the team’s departure for Lebanon.
Non however said that Fajardo will still travel with Gilas primarily to observe the other teams, particularly Australia as Gilas will face them in the Asian Qualifiers scheduled on November this year.
So there, these are just the facts. Fajardo came down with an untimely injury just before the two editions of the FIBA Asia Cup, and both after coming off splendid performances. And just like in 2015, the “Kraken” won’t be available for Gilas when it faces the best of Asia. Unlike in 2015 however, there won’t be an Andray Blatche to carry the cudgels for the embattled Philippine team.
Let’s wish our Gilas Pilipinas the best of luck. The team is gonna need it after all it has been through. And to June Mar Fajardo, let’s hope that he won’t get injured exactly before the next staging of the FIBA Asia Cup. – Ronald Agbada