More than just providing highlight reel dunks for Gilas Pilipinas, athletic forward Japeth Aguilar is far more concerned with playing his role on the defensive end as he contributes to the country’s Olympic bid this July.
Aguilar, a noted shot blocker for Barangay Ginebra, is a shoo-in for Gilas’ final 12, especially now that the national pool is one big man less with Greg Slaughter pulling out due to an ankle injury.
But the 6-foot-9 Aguilar was humble enough to say he still has to earn his spot in the Gilas squad, which will be facing world-class opponents starting July 5 against France in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila.
“For me, hinahanda ko talaga ang sarili ko kasi it’s (FIBA OQT) something serious,” Aguilar told FOX Sports after Gilas’ practice at the Meralco gym.
“Kailangan ready ako in every challenge and I’m preparing mentally and physically para sa darating na paggawa ng final lineup ni coach. Kasi at least, I gave my best if ever di ako makuha.”
The 28-year-old Aguilar had one highlight against the French national team when both squads met for the first time in the 2014 Antibes International Basketball Tournament in France.
Using his quickness and athleticism, the former Western Kentucky Hilltopper big man dunked over France’s slotman Ian Mahinmi during the first period of action. The 7-foot Mahinmi was then playing for the Indiana Pacers in the NBA.
Aguilar’s aerial exploit drew loud applause from the Filipino crowd at the Azur Arena.
“Hindi ko rin na-expect kasi yun eh (dunking over Mahinmi). But the fact na he’s an NBA player, so medyo na-hype ako and it’s a moment sa game. In fact, one of my memorable moments iyun,” recalled the son former Ginebra big man Peter Aguilar.
Gilas led by as much as 7 points during the 2nd half, before NBA veterans Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw took over in the final period to help France post a come-from-behind 75-68 win.
At present, Aguilar said Gilas isn’t focusing on whether France will be fielding its NBA players in the qualifying tournament, saying they intend to be more locked in at what they do with coach Tab Baldwin.
“Right now di kami masyado nagpe-pay attention sa mga news kasi di ba may sinasabi sila na di daw lalaro mga (NBA) players nila, pero sa amin, focused lang kami kung paano ma-improve yung offense namin saka chemistry namin,” Aguilar said.
So far, 4-time NBA champion Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs have confirmed his participation in the FIBA OQT Manila leg, while Batum, Diaw and big man Rudy Gobert said in past interviews that they won’t be suiting up for France for various reasons. – By Richard Dy
Follow this writer on Twitter: @richava