PHILIPPINES will go into their FIBA Asia Cup quarter-final against South Korea with an unbeaten record in Lebanon, and quite possibly a full squad, after June Mar Fajardo declared himself fit for action.
The San Miguel Beermen big man, a three-time Philippines Basketball Association MVP, is yet to make it onto the court in Beirut as he battles a calf problem.
But the centre is ready to return against Korea as Gilas look to reach a fourth successive FIBA Asia Cup semi-final.
His return would boost Gilas against their great rivals, as they look to beat a team they have defeated just once in their last four head-to-head matches at the Asian championship.
“Getting better, I’m really going to play,” said Fajardo, who suggested the key to overcoming the injury was partly in the mind.
“Okay, it’s just a discomfort, but it’s just like a brain that hurts.”
Two other players who have been suffering with injuries, Christian Standhardinger and Calvin Abueva, are also likely to take the court against Korea.
Standhardinger has been plagued by stiffness in his neck and shoulder and missed Sunday’s win over Qatar, while Abueva sprained his ankle in that 80-74 victory.
Team therapist Dexter Aseron feels Standhardinger will be close to 100 percent fitness, while Abueva still has swelling around his ankle.
Head coach Chot Reyes, whose team swept their group to set up a quarter-final with a Korea team that needed to see off Japan in a play-off, put his players through a lighter practice in the build-up to today’s quarter-final.
“We did not want to take the risk of another guy suffering from another pulled muscle or twisted ankle,” he said.
Philippines’ rivalry with Korea is one of the more storied bouts in Asian basketball.
If the most recent Asian Games and Williams Jones Cup results are included, Gilas have lost nine of their last 10 matches against Korea.
Korea’s Hur Jae has coached against the Philippines three times in the FIBA Asia Cup, winning all three.
Victory for Gilas would be celebrated by the team’s vast following in Lebanon, 2,000 of whom turned up to toast the players’ group-topping performance on Sunday.
In the other quarter-finals, Iran meet hosts Lebanon after the Philippines-Korea game, while Australia face China, and New Zealand meet Jordan, on Thursday.