SAN MIGUEL Head Coach Leo Austria is not willing to risk the long-term health of big man June Mar Fajardo in exchange for short term success in the ongoing Philippine Cup Finals. However, he will not stop June Mar if he wishes to take the court either.
Austria’s statement to SportsRageous.com came on the heels of another painful loss, this time on a 80-83 squeaker in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series against the Alaska Aces.
Fajardo, who is expected to be named the Philippine Cup Best Player of the Conference for the third straight season, injured his left knee during Game 6 of their semi-final series against Rain Or Shine.
The reigning most valuable player Fajardo had to be wheeled out on a stretcher and sent to a hospital, but famed sports medicine and orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Raul Canlas has since ruled out any tears on his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL).
Additionally, the injury cast a shadow over the participation of June Mar Fajardo in the upcoming FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament bracket to be hosted by the Philippines this July.
With Fajardo gone, the rest of the team managed to pull through, but nevertheless failed to gain wins in the first two games of the series.
“I will not be forcing June Mar to play if the other players are playing well. But right now, it’s very risky for him. He’s the future of Philippine basketball and San Miguel. He has a lot of championships to chase after,” said Austria. “After this championship, no one else will notice. So we will charge this to our experience instead.”
Despite his stance, Austria is open to allowing June Mar Fajardo to suit up and play ‘only when he wants to play’ and not force him to risk the chance of getting another injury that may disable him in the long term.
With or without his prized big man, Austria said that the team has responded positively, especially Arwind Santos, who is having a hard time picking up the scoring chores with the Alaska help defense swarming him outside the three-point arc.
“We’re trying our best to fill up the loss of June Mar Fajardo – his scoring, rebounding and defending. But if you will sum up the players who stepped up, we’ve filled it up,” he said.
“But the loss of Fajardo is big for us because if he was there, people will be forced to double-team him and we have a lot of outside shooters. That’s probably why Arwind [Santos] is having a hard time because [Alaska] is trying to cover our man on single coverage.”