Undersized Gilas begins Asia Cup title bid v China sans injured Fajardo

As Gilas Pilipinas makes its debut against many-time Asian champion China on Wednesday, three-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo will just be an interested spectator in the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon.

The 6-10 Fajardo flew with the rest of the national squad last weekend, though there’s no certainty if the Cebuano big man can play at all due to a calf strain he sustained in San Miguel’s win over TNT recently.

Gilas physical therapist Dexter Aseron said at best, all Fajardo can do since the team began practice was to strengthen his calf.

“We are just doing strengthening for his calf. No basketball related activities yet,” Aseron said in a message to FOX Sports.

Aseron added there’s no assurance Fajardo can play immediately since the San Miguel star center needs more time to recover.

“We still need more time probably,” he added.

Fajardo’s absence made Gilas’ frontcourt shorter since naturalized player Andray Blatche declared himself unavailable for the Lebanon cage joust.

Subbing for Blatche is Fil-German Christian Standhardinger, who managed to hold his own during his debut for Gilas in the William Jones Cup several weeks ago. The 6-8 banger averaged 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds for Gilas.

After China, Gilas takes on Iraq on Friday, before concluding group match play against Qatar on Sunday.

The top teams in the opening round make it to quarterfinals with the second & third placed teams playing in knockout games for the remaining four spots.

Gilas coach Chot Reyes said in an earlier interview that it is imperative to top their group, or else, face the unenviable task of playing either Oceania powerhouse teams New Zealand or Australia possibly in the quarterfinals.

The Kiwis and the Aussies will be competing in the expanded Asia-Oceania tournament for the first time.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @richava

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