Meralco rookie Brandon Bates kept it simple when asked about the tall task of defending San Miguel Beer’s June Mar Fajardo in the PBA Philippine Cup championship series.

“Starstruck … and sore!” he said with a hearty laugh while chatting with the Inquirer. “I remember waking up the other morning and every single part of my body was sore.”

Turning serious, the Filipino-Australian big man pointed out that he wasn’t expecting anything less from the man who has helped deliver San Miguel’s last 10 crowns while winning seven MVP trophies.

“He’s the best player in this league, and possibly—arguably—the best in Philippine (basketball’s) history,” Bates went on. “So yeah, starstruck and sore.”

Bates hasn’t been too shabby in this best-of-seven duel where he has helped his crew take a 2-1 lead. The former La Salle center has been integral in putting the clamps on the Beermen cornerstone.

Alongside Raymond Almazan, Norbert Torres and Kyle Pascual, Bates has made things difficult for Fajardo, especially in Game 3, as the San Miguel star was held to only five field goal attempts and forced to a team-worst seven turnovers.

There’s no denying that among the questions on Wednesday’s Game 4 set at 7:30 p.m. at Smart Araneta Coliseum will be about sustaining that effort. And Bates is optimistic, as energy, after all, has been synonymous with Meralco’s play.

“The coaching staff has prepared us really well. Our training sessions weren’t easy. They haven’t been easy coming into this [series]. I think we’re very well-prepared especially if this goes into seven games,” he said.

“It’s what we want because we’re truly prepared for this sort of stuff.”

Poster boy

Cliff Hodge, easily Meralco’s poster boy for vigor, is hardly fazed with the possibility of the Bolts’ energy sputtering as the series plods along.

“Ever since the ‘PBA On Tour,’ when the coaching staff came back and asked us what our goals are, we said we want to win a championship. They said, ‘all right, well if you guys want to win a championship, then you all got to be conditioned to win a championship,’” Hodge said as the Bolts look to build a huge 3-1 cushion.

“So we’ve been putting in the work since then. And I’m not tired—I can do this any day of the week. All the guys on the team are in condition and we’re in shape. So we want to keep this pace up. If everything works out and we win a championship, then that’s great. If not, we’ll keep working until we win one,” he added.

Such a projection remains to be seen, and it will be interesting to see if it even holds as they try to fend off the Beermen from equalizing.

Fajardo is shaping up to be at the front and center of that San Miguel counterattack in what is looming as his coronation as the Best Player of the Conference (BPC). Barring any big changes, the Cebuano hotshot will be taking home his 10th BPC, the most by anyone in league history.

2024-06-11T21:41:52Z dg43tfdfdgfd