June Mar Fajardo says teamwork is key to propel Nationals
June Mar Fajardo
MANILA, Philippines — The PBA’s only five-time MVP June Mar Fajardo is convinced that if Gilas plays as a team against Qatar on Feb. 21 and Kazakhstan on Feb. 24 in the final window of the FIBA Asia/Pacific World Cup Qualifiers, a sweep is doable with the reward of advancing to the 32-nation conclave in China.
The Philippine team leaves for Doha today and will hook up with naturalized import Andray Blatche who’s flying in from China. Blatche was in Manila for 10 days to practice with Gilas then left for China last Monday to play two games for Tianjin. The 12 players whom coach Yeng Guiao will deploy in Doha are Fajardo, Blatche, Jayson Castro, Mark Barroca, Paul Lee, Scottie Thompson, Marcio Lassiter, Gabe Norwood, Troy Rosario, Japeth Aguilar, Poy Erram and Raymond Almazan. Guiao has the option of enlisting R. R. Pogoy for the Kazakhstan contest but it will mean striking out a player from the roster for Qatar.
“Kailangan lang magtulungan para maipanalo yung dalawang games,” said Fajardo. “Malaki ang chance na manalo pero alam naman natin na hindi madali ang trabaho. Laban lang.”
Fajardo said Blatche’s return will make things easier for Gilas to control the paint. And if shooters like Lassiter and Lee wax hot, the defense will extend to clear space for the bigs to attack. “Malaking bagay si Marcio lalo na pag consistent ang shooting niya at magiging maluwag yung loob,” said Fajardo. “Okay naman yung practice ni Blatche at maayos yung pakikisama niya sa amin.”
A newcomer whom Fajardo singled out as a valuable contributor to the campaign is Barroca. The Magnolia guard is making his Gilas debut in the FIBA qualifiers. “Malaki ang maitutulong ni Barroca sa depensa pati na rin sa opensa,” said Fajardo. Barroca is one of four players who will be teaming with Blatche for the first time. The others are Lassiter, Erram and Thompson.
Gilas chief scout and assistant coach Ryan Gregorio said Blatche’s return is timely. “Andray came in and is in great basketball shape,” said Gregorio. “He used the tournament in China to get him ready for the sixth window. He easily blended with the group and embraced the offensive concepts set by coach Yeng and more importantly, was able to blend and fit in seamlessly. The locals are extremely overjoyed to have him on board.”
Gregorio said because of Blatche’s commitments in China, he was able to practice with Gilas only thrice but also worked out with NLEX and Rain Or Shine. “The objective was to run the offense and make him understand our points of attack,” he said. “Andray left last Monday and the rest of the team practiced that night then again on Tuesday. We took a break on Wednesday and resumed practice Thursday. We had a practice game against Meralco yesterday. We arrive in Qatar (Saturday) and we intend to practice as soon as we get settled in Doha. Andray will fly in from China straight to Doha today. First practice in Doha will be tomorrow.”
Gregorio said the team is optimistic of pulling through. “All looks upbeat and bright,” he said. “It’s good to see all the players embrace coach Yeng’s system. Emphasis is also given on our defense. Players are all locked in. We’re just focusing all our attention on the next two games. The goal is to win two games and make it to the World Cup in China.”