June Mar Fajardo and Chris Ross are a study in contrast. Aside from the 10-inch disparity in height, Ross is the one to Fajardo’s five (basketball parlance for point guard and center, respectively). Chris is cat quick and deadly from downtown. June Mar is not slow, but he is 90 lbs. heavier than Ross. And when he attempts from the 3-point line, his teammates laugh in good-natured camaraderie.
We’ve heard it all before. June Mar is a gentle giant, soft-spoken and polite to a fault. It’s ironic because he is astounding on the court, all 6’ 11” and 270 lbs, imposing his will and banging with his fellow bigs.
He is also quite selfless. When we asked him about having to play too many minutes, he replied he would like less minutes not because of the wear and tear on his gigantic body, but because he would like his teammates to share in the blessing of having more playing time.
June Mar also shared how daunting it was to relocate to the big city with the bright lights from his hometown Pinamungajan municipality, Cebu.
Chris, on the other hand, is Fil-Am, born and bred in San Antonio, Texas. We half-expected him to be brash and loud, with a chip on his shoulder from having been bounced from one PBA team to another, but he was cool and collected; almost mild-mannered.
We spoke about Texan food and TV shows that we watch. Surprisingly, he purports to be a homebody, with a dog to come home to. But he exudes a quiet confidence, as befits one who has upped his 3-point percentage (from 9% in 2010 to 32% in last conference’s playoffs) and takes pride in shutting down the opposing team’s best player.
Despite their unique personalities, though, their similarities are quite striking. As humble as they are talented, they are also serious students of the game, watching basketball incessantly on YouTube or the NBA channel. They share four PBA championships with SMB: 3 consecutive Philippine conferences and one Governor’s conference from 2015 to present. And they are both solid San Miguel Beermen, the deadly duo tasked to carry the franchise for years to come.
FHM: (To June Mar Fajardo): Bakit ang Instagram ID mo ay “SagingHilaw”?
June Mar: Mahilig kasi ako sa saging. Yung lulutuin.
(For the non-Visayans, “saging hilaw” is what the Tagalogs call “saging na saba” or bananas that are cooked to bring out the natural sweetness. Bananas are the new multivitamins, rich in vitamin A, B, C, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium. So eat more bananas if you want to be like June Mar Fajardo.)
FHM: Anong pagkain ang kinakain mo kadalasan?
June Mar: Kahit ano naman. Hindi naman kami [ganung] kaluho dati. Ngayon mabibili ko na kung ano ang gusto kong kainin. Hindi ako namimili ng pagkain.
FHM: Kahit hindi healthy ba?
June Mar: Depende. Kapag hard practice, more carbo. Kapag season na o the day before the game, protein kailangan.
FHM (to Chris Ross): What is Texas food like?
Chris: We’re known for barbecue and Mexican food. The barbecue there has bigger portions. The meat is more tender. I try to stay away from pork. I eat beef and chicken. After this (practice), I’ll probably have a burger. I’ve been craving for a burger.
FHM: Do you do anything special to win?
Chris: For me, I’m going up in age so I kinda stay healthy until the playoffs. I wouldn’t say going through the motions but keeping healthy (during the regular season is important), staying in shape, and waiting for the playoffs to come. Going into the playoffs, I up my workouts with my trainer Diego. You up the ante. You start to play every other day so you get into a good rhythm and on off days you come in and get your shots up. A lot of core action, a lot of mobility. We do a lot of stretching and everything (exercise) that has to do with basketball. We do a lot of basketball-related movements. He really gets my body right. I tell him I have an injury here, an injury there. We work around it.
FHM: What do you do to get your shots in?
Chris: It’s just repetition. Me and Marcio (Lassiter), usually after practice, I shoot with him. Just getting it in. Even before the game, a lot of repetition. But the biggest part is knowing mentally, that you can make the shot. If you don’t believe in yourself in the game, if you don’t think you can make the shot, you can’t. That’s the first obstacle, mentally. I just tell myself they’re going in. They just keep going in, man. (laughs)
FHM: SMB has not won the Commissioner’s Cup in 17 years. What is needed to win this conference?
June Mar: Kasi malalaki ang import (in the Commissioner’s Cup). Matagal na nga kami hindi nananalo. Kamuntik na kami makapasok sa Finals pero yung import namin medyo mainitin ang ulo.
(Tyler Wilkerson, the 2016 frontrunner for Best Import, did not attend the SMBeermen huddle after his outburst in Game 2 of the semifinals against Rain or Shine. He was cut from the team the day after.)
Kailangan talaga dedication sa practice at hard work. Kailangan talaga physically fit ka. Para makatagal ka sa loob. Tapos teamwork. Yun talaga ang pinakaimportante, teamwork.
Chris: We know the struggles we’ve had with this conference. We were no. 1 or no. 2 seed and we lost (even if we were) twice to beat. And then last year when we had Tyler (Wilkerson), we were the no. 1 seed.
FHM: He was too hotheaded?
Chris: It wasn’t what everyone thought. I was just with him in Dubai. He’s really a good guy. He just wants to win. We lost a couple of games and things didn’t go as they should. It didn’t end well but we were right there, man. We had a really good import. Our team was really good at the time. It might have just been, like I said, mentally. We got Charles (Rhodes) now. When he’s in tune with what we’re doing, when we get back to how we were playing, I think we’ll be fine. It’s just about going out there and competing and winning games. As long as we compete and play hard every game, we should be right there.
FHM: The life of an athlete is like a celebrity’s. You’re like a TV or movie star. How do you adjust to this kind of life?
June Mar: Nuong una, (actually) hanggang ngayon, hindi ako sanay sa interview, naiilang ako sa camera. Kasi nga, galing ako probinsiya. Hindi ko naman alam itong mga ganito. Dito lang ako na-expose nung nandito na ako sa Manila. Pero medyo nasanay din, kasi ito na yung trabaho namin. Panglimang taon ko na ito. Ayun, nasanay (na nang kaunti).
Chris: I’m a simple person. I get up in the morning. I have a helper. Sometimes she’ll fix breakfast for me or sometimes I’ll stop by Starbuck before practice. Get some extra workout there. If I don’t have a workout with Diego, I’ll go home and just relax. I like to stay home and watch TV. I got a dog at home so (we chill). I started watching Iron Fist, How to Get Away with Murder, Sleuth, Blacklist. I try to watch as much sports as I can. I’m just simple. I go home, relax, eat and chill.
FHM: How do you think you'd fare versus the great point guard-center combos of SMB—Olsen Racela-Danny Ildefonso/Danny Siegel, Hector Calma-Ramon Fernandez. Naabutan niyo ba sila?
June Mar: Si Kuya DI (Danny Ildefonso) lang ang naabutan ko nung na-draft ako sa Petron (precursor to SMB). Nandito pa si Kuya DI. At that time, si Kuya Olsen, siya na yung coach. Napapanuod ko yung games nila sa YouTube. Minsan, pinapanuod ko ang games nila sa Pinoy Extreme. Yung mga vintage. Napapanood ko si Papa Mon (Fernandez).
FHM (to June Mar): How do you compare your game with Danny I.'s?
June Mar: Mas magalaw siya. Grabe, ang dami niyang mga moves. Tinuturuan niya ako nung Petron pa ako.
Chris: I’ve seen them on YouTube. I try not to compare. Me and June Mar, well, obviously, June Mar is the PBA's three-time MVP. He’ll probably be the most dominant ever to play in the PBA if he keeps going at the rate that he’s going. But I try not to think about any of that. When I get on the court, it’s just me and my teammates. I don’t even look at the other team. I always thought that we’re playing against ourselves. The other team can’t beat us. I always look at it that way.
Comparing ourselves to the greats...that’s for writers and basketball enthusiasts to do so I just go play my game and play hard. I go out there like every game is my last game. Put it all out there. It’s just a blessing now that people are starting to see the hard work I’ve put in. Not just me but my team as a whole.
FHM: How can you improve your game some more?
June Mar: Huwag lang ma-kontento. Kailangan isipin mo na marami ka pang i-improve. Gusto ko matutuhan lahat yung mga moves niya (Danny Ildefonso) sa poste. Head and shoulder fake, spin, spin and fake, spin and hook shot. Lahat ng variations niya sa poste.
Chris: I watch a lot of basketball and I don’t try to pattern myself from any one person. I just take something from everyone. Everyone wants to shoot like Steph (Curry) or Allan Caidic. One step after half-court and shoot it. (laughs) Everyone wants to do that, man. But I got a great team. Marcio is one of the greatest shooters in the game today. Alex Cabagnot, of course. Arwind Santos always steps up for us, and June Mar is dominant. I just try to fill in when I can and try to keep them together. I’m kinda like the Draymond Green of this team. You know what I mean? Keeping everyone together, making sure everyone gets a shot. But I’m not kicking anyone’s balls like Draymond. (laughs) I stay away from that.
I pride myself in trying to be the glue guy, the guy that everyone wants to play with. And never losing my “calling card” of playing defense. I pride myself in being able to lock someone down, keeping everyone together and happy. When everyone is happy, that’s when you play at your best.
FHM: You played a lot of minutes in the (Philippine Conference) Finals. Coach Leo Austria used a very short rotation. Hindi ba kayo napagod?
June Mar: Nakakapagod kung nakakapagod. Mahaba nga ang minutes ko. Sa semifinals, umabot pa kami ng Game 7. Yung Finals, umabot ng Game 5, mataas pa rin ang minutes ko. Pero siempre, inisip ko, eto yung trabaho ko. Yung papa ko, nagtrabaho sa construction. Hindi naman construction talaga pero sila yung gumagawa ng marmol. Ang trabaho nila, umaabot ng 10 to 15 hours. Ako, mga isang oras lang naman ang laro. Pagkatapos magpahinga ka naman.
Siempre iisipin ko na sobrang blessed ako na yan lang ang ginagawa ko. Exercise pa. Siempre yung mga remaining hours mo, gamitin mo sa tama. At hindi ako dapat mag-complain sa minutes, kasi nga blessed ako na mataas ang minutes ko. Yung mga ibang teammates ko, parang nakakahiya sa kanila kasi nasa bench sila. Gusto ko rin yung minutes ko mabawasan at mabigyan sa kanila. Para mabigyan din sila ng more confidence. Magagaling naman sila pero lahat naman tayo, kung hindi ka mabigyan ng minuto, hindi ka makakapagkita (ng galing).
Ako din naman, nung rookie ako, binigyan nila ako ng minuto. Kaya nakapagpakita ako. Hindi mo talaga dapat i-reklamo yung mahaba ang minutes mo. Pero dapat mong pagsikapan. Kung ano ang binigay sa iyo, give your best when you are given the opportunity.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Winston Baltasar