June Mar Fajardo: Next PBA Superstar?

MANILA, Philippines - Petron Blaze got what it wanted, and then pulled a minor surprise when it drafted at No. 3 a 6-foot-3 Fil-American, while Chris Tiu, considered a guard with a high basketball IQ, was passed up by five teams before being picked up by recent PBA champion Rain Or Shine at No. 7 during Sunday's Rookie Draft at Robinson's Place in Malate.

To no one's surprise, Cebu-bred June Mar Fajardo went first, fulfilling Petron's desire to have what it calls a legitimate center. Then picking again at No. 3, it chose unheralded Alex Mallari whose forte is playing the 2-guard and small forward positions.

Also not a surprise was when Alaska, picking at No. 2, chose Calvin Abueva, whose credentials include an MVP award in the previous NCAA season as star of the San Sebastian Stags.

Abueva is considered the second best player in the lot.

The 22-year-old Fajardo was the consensus No. 1 pick and could have been taken by any team any time.

He was what the doctor ordered for the Petron Blaze Boosters whose fall from the top was so precipitous during the last two conferences where it failed to advance to the playoff stages, that it cost Petron coach Ato Agustin his job.

Besides perhaps blaming Agustin, Petron also rued its lack of a strong and dominating center. That problem, Petron hopes, has now been addressed.

''I hope I can help the team in rebound, scoring and defense,'' said Fajardo, a Hotel and Restaurant Management graduate at UC. ''But I still have to improve on my perimeter shooting, and free throw. I'll practice hard to improve and get prepared for the PBA season.''

Fajardo said he looks forward to playing with Petron, especially alongside Danny Ildefonso, his favorite player.

He will also come in as Petron opens the coming season with new coach Olsen Racela who replaced Agustin.

''Of course, I'm proud that I'll now be playing with Danny I, and also (fellow Cebuano) Dondon Hontiveros,'' said Fajardo, who played one season with the San Miguel Beermen in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) where he averaged 4.5 points and 4.1 rebounds.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Mallari whose previous stint was with Big Chill in the PBA D-League.

Alaska, on the other hand, opted for 'talent' over 'need' when the Aces picked Abueva, who is expected to provide quality minutes coming off the bench.

As the names rolled for Nos, 4-6, there was no Chris Tiu, who, had he entered the draft last year could have been 1 or 2.

But he went at No. 7, picked up Rain or Shine whose coach Yeng Guiao was beside himself with joy.

''We're surprised that Chris is still available at No. 7,'' Guiao said. ''He's a good addition for us, since we'll miss Paul Lee for at least five months. He can play the point and the shooting guard.''

The other first round selections in the annual Draft were Cliff Hodge at No. 4 for Meralco, Aldrech Ramos at No. 5 for Barako Bull, Chris Ellis at No. 6 and Charles Jensen at No. 8 for Barangay Ginebra, Vic Manuel at No. 9 and Jason Deutchman at No. 10 for Global Port.

Global Port, owned by Sultan 900 Capital Inc.'s Mikee Romero who purchased the franchise of Powerade, got to select Manuel after the Batang Pier traded Sean Anthony for that No. 9 pick plus reserve forward Val Acuna.

The 6-foot-4 Anthony, an incoming third year forward, was later traded to Barako Bull from B-Meg for Ramos and the team's second round pick. Barako Bull used the pick and chose former San Beda College player Dave Marcelo.

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