Europe camp a welcome challenge to 2-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo

All eyes are on June Mar Fajardo as he marks his return to Gilas Pilipinas and the world basketball stage early next month.

But the 2-time PBA Most Valuable Player would rather keep his current Gilas stint low-key.

In fact, even if he has turned the PBA into his virtual playground the last 2 seasons, the 6-foot-10 Cebuano said Gilas’ offense still has to go through naturalized big man Andray Blatche.

“Hindi ko iniisip yung match-up ko sa ibang big men kasi ang mindset ko, ay kung paano ko matulungan mga kakampi ko at paano ako makakatulong sa team,” Fajardo said in a brief chat with FOX Sports, shortly after the team’s practice Friday in Karpenisi, Greece. “Si Andray yung priority namin sa opensa kaya kailangan namin sya tulungan.”

But the star center of San Miguel Beer admitted everyone will also have to do his share for Gilas to achieve its goal of punching a ticket to the Olympics, a feat that has eluded the Philippines for the last 46 years.

“Kailangan mag-step up talaga mga shooters namin,” he said. “And kung may chance na tumira sa labas, ititira ko, pero mag-stick pa din ako sa kung saan ako more effective which is sa post at sa paint.”

But he did admit that Gilas’ ongoing 9-day training camp in Greece has helped him a great deal as he worked on his game.

For one, Fajardo’s Gilas stint back in 2014 saw him average just 12.8 minutes per contest in the FIBA World Cup in Seville, Spain.

But his minutes are expected to shoot up once he plays the slot with Blatche shifting to the power forward position.

“Malaking tulong sa akin ang camp na ito kasi makakalaro ko yung mga magagaling na big men ng ibang bansa. Nakaka-boost ng confidence iyun,” said the soft-spoken big man out of the University of Cebu.

In Greece, Fajardo gets the chance to improve his post plays by guarding Blatche during practice, a huge upgrade since the SMB slotman was used to playing against PBA big men who are certainly not in the caliber of the former Brooklyn Nets center.

Gilas debuts on July 5 against world no. 5 France in the opening day of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila. – By Richard Dy

Follow this writer on Twitter: @richava