By WAYLON GALVEZ
Manila, Philippines – The reign of the Big Fella has begun.
San Miguel Beer center June Mar Fajardo took the first big step towards a long dominant career in the Philippine Basketball Association yesterday after bagging his first Most Valuable Player award.
Fajardo bested fellow Best Player of the Conference winners Jayson Castro and Ranidel de Ocampo of Talk ‘N Text and elder statesman Asi Taulava of Air21 during the PBA Annual Leo Awards at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The affair was held before Game 3 of the PBA PLDT Home Telpad Governors’ Cup Finals between Grand Slam-seeking San Mig Super Coffee and Rain or Shine, with the best-of-5 series tied, 1-1.
Seven years after playing his first organized basketball, Fajardo won the most coveted individual award in Philippine basketball, garnering a total of 2,614 points from a combined statistical points (1,145), votes from media (1,075), fellow players (94) and the PBA Commissioner’s Office (300).
A native of Pinamungahan, Cebu, the 24-year-old Best Player of the Conference (BPC) during the Philippine Cup overwhelmed Castro (1,658), De Ocampo (1,139) and Taulava (1,059).
Like Fajardo, Castro and de Ocampo were automatic candidates in the MVP race since they also won BPC awards, with the former winning it in the Commissioner’s Cup and the latter won in the Governors’ Cup.
The 6-foot-9 Taulava, the MVP in 2003, finished second overall in the SP department with 31.6 SP behind Fajardo’s 37.2. Fajardo, de Ocampo and Castro were also named to the First Mythical team together with San Mig Super Coffee’s Mark Barroca.
“Sa dinami-dami ng magagaling na players sa PBA, ako ang napili na MVP,” said Fajardo, who thanked his former school, University of Cebu where he started his career in basketball back in 2007 under ex-PBA player Rhoel Gomez.
“Maraming dreams na nabuo dito (in the PBA), pero kung hindi dahil sa UC, malamang di ako naka-abot dito. Hindi mo maspell ang success kung walang UC, at kung ang gamot may tatak BFAD, ako may tatak UC,” added Fajardo, also a member of Gilas Pilipinas.
Fajardo actually took home four trophies. Aside from his MVP and Mythical First Team honors, he also captured the Most Improved Player award and was named to the PBA All-Defensive Team.
For the season, Fajardo averaged nearly 17 points, 14.16 rebounds and a league-best 2.08 shot blocks per game.
The other awardees in the Leo Awards include the PBA’s Mythical Second Team composed of Rain or Shine’s Paul Lee, San Mig Super Coffee’s Peter June Simon and Marc Pingris, Alaska’s Sonny Thoss, and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel rookie Greg Slaughter.
The 7-foot Slaughter, the top overall pick in last year’s Rookie Draft, also bagged the Rookie of the Year award, besting Ian Sangalang and Justine Melton of San Mig Super Coffee, and Raymond Almazan of Rain or Shine.
In the All-Defensive Team, also named to the group with Fajardo are Pingris and Barroca, as well as Rain or Shine’s Gabe Norwood and Jireh Ibanes, while the PBA’s Sportsmanship Award went to former two-time MVP Willie Miller of Barako Bull.