For the past two PBA seasons, Chito Victolero and Magnolia have vied for Philippine Cup supremacy.
But the Hotshots could only settle for a runners-up finishes on both occasions, no thanks to powerhouse team San Miguel.
The Beermen have been lording over the all-Filipino conference for five seasons now. And at the forefront of their success is, of course, reigning five-time league MVP June Mar Fajardo.
Victolero and Magnolia are well-aware of how much of a game-changer the gentle giant from Pinamungajan, Cebu is.
They witnessed it first-hand in their title match in 2018. Then, Fajardo produced 42 points and 20 rebounds to will SMB back from 23 down en route to the title-clinching 2OT win in Game Five.
And in 2019, Fajardo helped the Beermen extend the series to a Game Seven, where he hauled down a record 31 rebounds as the storied franchise copped its fifth straight championship.
San Miguel is the favorite yet again for the 2020 Philippine Cup. All eyes are on the star-studded squad to see if they will be able to make history by securing its second Perpetual trophy.
But that might have changed. On Wednesday, the Beermen announced that the 30-year-old Fajardo is out indefinitely due to a fractured right tibia he suffered in practice last Monday.
That could change the landscape of the conference — and might even be a chance for contenders such as the Hotshots to take advantage.
The reigning Coach of the Year thinks otherwise, though, pointing out that there are still 10 more teams who are hungry for a title.
“Nandiyan man si June Mar o wala, one team lang ‘yan eh. I mean, there are ten more teams na kailangan namin ipag-prepare,” said Victolero, who’s entering his fourth season with Magnolia.
“Still, there’s Ginebra. There’s Talk ‘N’ Text, there’s NLEX, there’s NorthPort. There’s Columbian — which is, right now, is a very strong team because of their rookies and CJ Perez.
“So, wala kang pwedeng i-balewala diyan. So we need to prepare hard for each team,” he added.
Still, more than anything else, Victolero is praying for the best for Fajardo, who underwent surgery last Tuesday.
“It’s very sad kasi we don’t want the players na magkaroon ng injury. We want June Mar to be healthy,” he said. “Nakita natin siyang nag-grow, [hanggang sa] nakuha na niya yung laro niya.”
“We’ll pray for him also. Sana maka-recover agad siya. Let’s pray for June Mar.”
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