FOSHAN, China—Every player in the Gilas Pilipinas squad seeing action in the Fiba World Cup here has gained valuable experience playing against talents that are far superior in so many ways.
The Filipinos have so tangled with standouts from Europe, some of them stalwarts of their NBA teams and looming to be future Hall of Famers like Nikola Jokic of Serbia.
And June Mar Fajardo, despite his many successes back home—five PBA MVPs and counting, numerous other individual accolades and championships for his mother San Miguel Beer ballclub—is putting this experience to further his skills.
“This is a good experience for me and the team,” Fajardo said in Filipino Tuesday night after Gilas Pilipinas practice, referring to playing world-class countries Italy and Serbia.
Though the results against those two sides were disappointing, to say the least, Fajardo is relishing playing against them, especially that one against the Serbs and their cornerstone Jokic.
“He has a lot of skills—outside shooting, passing,” Fajardo said of the 7-foot Jokic, an exceptional all-around talent who doesn’t seem to have the speed and athleticism as other big men in the NBA but finished last season as a First Team member.
“He has a lot of moves, and when he has the ball, his teammates are always on the move and he always spots the open man.”
“I want to keep on improving,” he said. “I don’t want to be stagnant.”
Reminded by reporters that back in 2014, in his first World Cup in Seville, Spain, that he wasn’t as good before that tournament, Fajardo agreed.
Fast forward to today, Fajardo started winning his string of MVPs after that tournament—when he faced talent not as great as Jokic but better than him at that time.
Fajardo still has at least one World Cup in him remaining, in 2023 when the Philippines co-hosts the event with Indonesia.
Asked to assess himself against Jokic; “Siyempre, malayo. NBA yun, eh,” he said.
Fajardo will be at the prime of his health at 33 in four years, and when the World Cup swings to Southeast Asia by then, he would a far better player—the way he improved himself after Spain 2014.
By then, hopefully, the gap with Jokic shouldn’t be as big as Fajardo says it is.
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