The Kraken Cometh

It is rare to find 6’9″ and above players in the Philippines. In the last decade, probably only a handful have come up and ended up as basketball players in college. Rarer still, is a Filipino 6’9″ player who can actually play basketball well. Hence imagine the impact that fired up the imagination of most Filipino Basketball fans, when such a player finally came into the local basketball scene. And that player, is Junmar “The Kraken” Fajardo.

‘The Kraken’
Clash of the Titans 2009 Kraken PosterSome of the Interbasket forumers has given the nickname, “The Kraken” to Junmar, thanks in part to the popularity of the 2009 Hollywood movie, “Clash of the Titans”. In that movie, the Kraken was Zeus’ ultimate weapon, a legendary monster of the sea of enormous, size capable of destroying anything in its path.

From a basketball point of view, Junmar does seem like the Kraken of Cebu basketball. He is currently the tallest and biggest player there, and similar to the Kraken, his combination of size and skill can lay waste to any basketball opposition in that area. In fact, Junmar is the main reason that the UC Webmasters have been able to win the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI) crown this year, its very first in the league.

Fajardo was first noticed a couple of years ago when he started dominating some of the semi-commercial, pre-season tournaments in Cebu that the University of Cebu (UC) was playing in. More impressive still, was the fact that in some of these tournaments, even as a freshman, he was able to hold his own against the main Cebuano veteran big man then, the 6’5″ Rino Berame.

At that time, he was already described as 6’7″, but now he has reportedly grown to 6’10”. Over the years, he has mainly been playing in Cebu, and basketball fans naturally wonder how he would fare against teams based in Manila. Although he did get to play against various Manila college and professional teams in exhibition games, in my opinion, such exhibition matches do not really reflect true competition for him, as teams and opposing players tend to play it lightly in such games.

‘PCCL Competition’
Junmar The Kraken, in more ways than oneA true competition for Junmar, would be when he is ranged to play against good teams with good players, in a serious tournament. Such a tournament is the Philippine Collegiate Championship League (PCCL), which gathers the best basketball college schools in the Philippines to play against one another in a short tournament format. So far, Junmar as a UC Webmaster has played in three PCCL tournaments, against four National Collegiate Association (NCAA) and University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) teams.

The first was in 2008, against NCAA team Letran University Knights. Letran, an NCAA Final Four team that year, then had some good big men in 6’3″ Dino Daa, and 6’5″ John Foronda. In that game, Junmar played well, scoring 24 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and blocking 9 shots. Fajardo though was overshadowed in terms of scoring output by Dino Daa, who scored 27 points.

The next was in 2009, this time against UAAP powerhouse the University of the East (UE) Red Warriors. The Red Warriors, a UAAP title finalist that year, had a couple of good, big men in the highly athletic, 6’3″ Elmer Espiritu, and not flashy but effective 6’4″ Pari Llagas. Against such a frontline, Junmar again gave a good performance, scoring 24 points. Elmer and Pari, though, also played well against Fajardo’s defense, scoring 14 and 17 points respectively.

‘2010 PCCL Competition’
PCCL 2010 LogoBut the coming out event for Junmar would probably be the 2010 PCCL tournament, wherein he went against the top UAAP teams in the Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles, and the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers.

The Blue Eagles were the reigning UAAP champions, with quality big men like 6’5″ Justin Chua, 6’5″ Jumbo Escueta and 6’7″ J.P. Erram. Against such a rotating frontline, Fajardo managed to score 30 points and grab 15 rebounds, while shooting an impressive 60% field goal percentage (making 12 out of 20 attempts). In the meantime, the Chua-Escueta-Erram trio was held to a combined output of only 14 points.

Two days later, it was the Green Archer’s Center rotation of the 6’6″ Yutien Andrada, fellow southener 6’5″ Papot Paredes, and veteran 6’5″ Indonesian Ferdinand to have a go at “The Kraken”. The result? 16 points, 21 rebounds and 5 shotblocks, against the combined output of 19 points for the three Centers.

All in all, during the last three PCCL seasons, Junmar has averaged 23.5 points per game against the top NCAA and UAAP teams.

One could say that Junmar is the focus of the offense for UC, and thus gets a lot of attempts, and it is therefore natural for him to score a lot of points. But one could also argue that he is also the focus of the defense of the opposing team. The most telling stat for me, was his 60% shooting clip against the Blue Eagles. Here he is, double, or triple-teamed by some of the best big men in the UAAP, and he still is able to hit six out of ten attempts. Any lesser talented player would’ve likely have his shooting percentages go down against such defense.

The same could be said about his rebounding. With the opposing trying to move heaven and hell to box and push him out of the paint using multiple players, the fact that he could still get to them in bunches is a clear indication of his ability as a Center.

‘Parting Shot’
What’s next for Junmar? He’s still quite young, reportedly 21 years old, but already the sky is the limit for this young man as far as Philippine basketball is concerned, whether it is with Smart Gilas (where his height and skills are sorely needed by the National Team), or the PBA. Since he is relatively young, he might even have a shot at a US NCAA Division 1 school.

Nevertheless, every PBA team would be willing to hire him right now if they can. No less than legendary player and coach Norman Black said quoted as saying that Junmar is already PBA-Material. For the PBA, the Age of the Kraken is about to commence …

Sources:

– Falcons edge Blue Eagles, Grab lead in PCCL title series by Jasmine W. Payo, December 3, 2010, http://www.inquirer.net/sports/articles/Falcons-edge-Blue-Eagles.html

– Ateneo, Adamson forge title duel by Jonas Terrado, November 30, 2010, http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/290276/ateneo-adamson-forge-title-duel

– Lee explodes with Triple-double as Warriors conquer Webmasters by Anton Roxas, Saturday, 28 November 2009, http://www.inboundpass.com/2009/11/28/lee-explodes-with-a-triple-double-as-warriors-conquer-webmasters/

– Alas wants to face the Red Lions in the Sweet 16 round by Ronnie Roa, Wednesday, 12 November 2008, http://www.inboundpass.com/2008/11/12/alas-wants-to-face-the-red-lions-in-the-sweet-16-round/

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