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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PBA JUNE Mar Fajardo is focused on leading San Miguel Beer to its first PBA title after a two-year drought.

June Mar Fajardo is not just big in size. He also knows his priorities.

Shortly after getting named in the 12-man pool of Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tim Cone, the gentle giant from Cebu declared readiness to lead San Miguel Beer to the Commissioner’s Cup title of the Philippine Basketball Association.

Fajardo said he is thrilled to be called up for another tour of national duty, but the possibility of leading the Beermen to their first PBA title since the Philippine Cup in 2022 is his major priority at the moment.

The Beermen are on a roll.

Despite changing import midway into the season-opening conference, they still finished strong to emerge as second seed after the single-round elimination. Then, they made short work of Rain or Shine in the quarterfinals before clobbering crowd-favorite Barangay Ginebra in the best-of-five semifinal series.

Now, they are back in the finals, ready to challenge the victor between Phoenix Super LPG and Magnolia to a best-of-seven duel. The Fuel Masters and the Hotshots are still clashing in Game 4 of their best-of-five semis series at press time.

Fajardo said he is excited to lift a PBA trophy anew.

“I am happy because we’re now in the finals. It’s been a while since the last time we won a PBA title,” said Fajardo at the sidelines of the Philippine Sportswriters Association Annual Awards at the packed Diamond Hotel in Manila last Monday.

“We’re just waiting for our opponent from the other series. Whoever it is, we’ll be ready.”

But playing for Gilas shouldn’t also be taken for granted.

With the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas riding the crest of a very successful year highlighted by its hosting of the FIBA Basketball World Cup and gold medals in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games and 19th Asian Games, there is a pressing need for Gilas to come up victorious in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers in which they will battle Hong Kong on 22 February at the Tsuen Wan Stadium and Chinese Taipei on 25 February at the Philsports Arena.

More than that, the Filipinos have to qualify to the Paris Olympics via the Olympic Qualifying Tournament from 2 to 7 July in Latvia.

The last time the Philippines campaigned in the Olympics was in 1972 in Munich so emerging victorious in the OQT is something that the federation has been eyeing to sustain its string of historic finishes.

To realize the goal, SBP appointed Cone as the full-time Gilas coach.

Cone, the winningest coach in the PBA and the genius behind the Filipinos’ historic victory in the Asian Games, immediately assembled a 12-man team that will stay together until making it to the Olympics.

Fajardo, a seven-time PBA Most Valuable Player, will serve as cornerstone together with other PBA players like Scottie Thompson, Chris Newsome, Calvin Oftana, CJ Perez and Jamie Malonzo.

Cone also drafted Japan-based stars Dwight Ramos, AJ Edu Carl Tamayo, and Kai Sotto as well as reigning University Athletic Association of the Philippines MVP Kevin Quiambao.

For good measure, he included naturalized player Justin Brownlee pending the decision of the International Basketball Federation about his suspension.

Fajardo bared that he is honored to be part of the elite group.

Still, he has an important mission to accomplish.

“I am excited to be part of Gilas, but that’s not my focus right now,” he said.

“My focus now is the PBA finals. I really want to win the crown.”

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