Believe it or not, six-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo and longtime rival Greg Slaughter nearly became teammates in what could have been one of the tallest frontcourts in collegiate basketball history.
In his guesting on An Eternity of Basketball on Saturday, former PBA gunner Elmer "Boy" Cabahug shared the inside story on how Fajardo - the 6-10 gentle giant from Pinamungahan - and Slaughter - the nearly seven-foot Fil-Am who rose to prominence in Cebu - went from would-be teammates to collegiate rivals in the CESAFI over a decade ago.
"The father of June Mar used to work near the area where my cousin worked, which was in Mandaue City," recalled Cabahug, then the head coach of University of the Visayas.
"So my cousin told me there was a (then) 6-6 player from Pinamungahan and his father worked near me. He said, 'Why don't you let him play for UV,'" he continued.
However, Cabahug's then-frontline already had Neil Raneses and JR Quiñahan and no longer had room for a raw prospect.
So instead of accommodating Fajardo, the former Green Lancers mentor told his cousin to try University of Southern Philippines Foundation (USPF).
The young big man practiced for a few times for USPF, then coached by Cabahug's uncle Raul Latono, but did not enroll at the school because he wanted to take a maritime course.
"June Mar wanted a nautical course so USPF didn't recruit him anymore. Before June Mar headed back to his hometown, he stopped by UC's (University of Cebu) practice," narrated Cabahug. "That's where he was eventually seen and recruited by UC coach Rhoel Gomez."
Fast forward to now and Cabahug admitted that if he only knew then what Fajardo would become, he would have put out all the stops to get him for UV.
"He would have played for UV, but UC immediately recruited him which was an obvious priority (for any collegiate team)," he explained.
UV was built into a powerhouse thanks to the touch of the two-time PBA champion with Purefoods who is still remembered as one of the deadliest shooters in league history.
Cabahug's love affair with basketball didn't end after a fruitful ten-year pro career as in 2001, he was tapped to take the helm of the Green Lancers. He wasted no time steering his squad to a dynastic run, winning nine consecutive championships.
It was towards the latter end of that title streak that the former All-Star MVP had a golden opportunity to extend their dominance. However, he told June Mar Fajardo to go somewhere else.
If only Cabahug had decided to welcome the future "Kraken" with open arms, he has no doubt UV would have extended their dynasty, especially as Greg Slaughter was also donning the green and white. In Cabahug's mind, those would-be "Twin Towers" could have won them 15 titles in a row.
Still, in retrospect, the soft-spoken tactician remains proud of what he achieved for his alma mater.
With just Slaughter, they won three straight championships starting in 2007. The Cleveland-born big man was also named back-to-back MVP in 2008 and 2009.
In 2009, Cabahug and Slaughter faced Fajardo and UC in the CESAFI Finals, a matchup that would forever be etched in the consciousness of Cebuano fans.
The championship series boiled down to a battle of big men as Slaughter powered UV to victory with 16 points per contest while Fajardo normed 19.8 markers in UC's gallant stand.
Fajardo would get revenge a year later - with Slaughter having transferred to Ateneo - and would go on to win back-to-back titles before becoming the centerpiece for San Miguel and its eight championships. Now 30 years old, he is expected to rewrite even more records and perhaps, add even more individual awards to his trophy case.
Slaughter, for his part, also went on to keep winning, with two championships with the Blue Eagles and four titles with Ginebra as well as the Best Player of the Conference award in the 2017 Governors' Cup. He now stands as a pillar for NorthPort.
The two do get to be teammates from time-to-time, be it in All-Star Games or more recently for national team duty.
As for Cabahug, the 2010 CESAFI Finals was the ending in his decade-long coaching story. He was replaced by Felix Belano, another former PBA player-turned-coach.
He may have missed out on a June Mar Fajardo-Greg Slaughter frontcourt, but nobody could take away the winning tradition the 1994 PBA Sportsmanship Awardee brought to UV.