#FIBAOQT: Gilas twin towers may finally see light of day in Manila OQT

(image from FIBA's facebook page)
*This first appeared on my weekly column at FIBA.com.

The Philippines have never been known as a country where 2.00m (6ft 7in) tall guys are a dime a dozen. That's why, for the longest time, Filipino fans have been waiting with baited breath to see twin towers June Mar Fajardo (2.08m/6ft 10in) and Greg Slaughter (2.11m/6ft 11in) both put those Gilas Pilipinas kits on and fight for flag and country.

This year, that may just happen.


June Mar and Greg, you see, are the consensus two most talented big men in the Philippines. For the longest time, they have been rivals, starting when June Mar was playing for the University of Cebu Webmasters and Greg was playing for the University of Visayas Green Lancers before making the big move to Manila. They've never been teammates at the professional or national team level - Greg begged off from the national pool the last time he was called up in 2014 while it was June Mar's turn to step back due to injury in 2015 - but 2016 has opened the door for that possibility.

In fact, in separate statements to the Philippine media, both June Mar and Greg have expressed their excitement at the prospect of playing alongside each other and forming a potentially formidable frontline together with naturalized player Andray Blatche (2.11m/6ft 11in), who also very recently recommitted to the Philippine team.





If plans don't fall through and all three stay healthy, we could see the tallest and deepest frontcourt in Philippine basketball history, and the main reason for that is how both June Mar and Greg have really improved since the last time they donned the Philippine colors.

June Mar last played for Gilas at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, averaging 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds, and the 2014 Asian Games, putting up 5.6 points and 5.0 boards per ballgame. Those aren't very impressive numbers, but remember that in both tournaments, he mainly played a back-up role to Blatche and another naturalized player, Marcus Douthit. Seeing as he has been the back-to-back Most Valuable Player of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in 2014 and 2015, however, it only stands to reason that June Mar will play a much bigger role this time around.



The man nicknamed "The Kraken" has been a pretty much unstoppable force in the PBA these past two seasons. He averaged 16.8 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 2013-2014 to bagg the MVP plum in only his sophomore campaign. He followed that up by norming 17.4 points, 12.9 boards and 1.7 rejections per outing in 2014-2015, becoming MVP again on top of leading his club, the San Miguel Beermen, to two conference titles. In the current season, June Mar has remained indomitable, recording 21.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots per contest, with San Miguel Beer already pocketing the 2015-2016 Philippine Cup.


A photo posted by June Mar Fajardo fan page🏀 (@krakenatics15) on



He is expected to be Gilas's starting center when they take the stage at home in the Manila OQT opposite the likes of France's Rudy Gobert and New Zealand's Isaac Fotu. Whereas Blatche brings his varied skill-set to the table, Filipino hoop nuts are counting on June Mar to anchor the middle both as a rim protector and low post scorer.

As for Slaughter, he is a no-brainer consideration for the national team, but simply leaving it at that is a disservice to his experience and talents. Slaughter has actually played for the national team a couple of times: at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games and the 2011 Jakarta SEA Games.

He is currently doing splendidly in the PBA, where he was drafted number one overall in 2013 by the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings. He has always been a solid man in the middle for Ginebra, but he has seen a meteoric boost in his production. From averaging 14.8 points and 10.3 rebounds last season, the Ohio-born big man has upped his numbers to 20.9 points and 12.8 boards per game this season. He is, in fact, the current overall favorite in the MVP race.



When he does play for Gilas, the man nicknamed "Gregzilla" is expected to be one of the main relievers for both Blatche and June Mar. His presence is obviously a big factor because he adds much-needed ceiling to the national team. He does most of his damage in the paint as he gets offensive boards or receives entry passes/handoffs very close to the basket, but he can also spot up from midrange or execute with his back to the basket. While he isn't the most mobile player on the floor, his size and basketball IQ can make him a tough assignment even for guys like Joffrey Lauvergne and Robert Loe.

Aside from giving Gilas a stronger shot at qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics, having both June Mar and Greg in the final 12 also means they will gain valuable experience leading up to the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge, 2017 FIBA Asia Cup and the run-up to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China.


A photo posted by Enzo Flojo/Hoop Nut (@thehoopnut) on




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