Japeth Aguilar up to the challenge as Andray Blatche’s frontcourt partner

Provide solid screens. Crash the boards at will. Anchor the interior defense.

Those are just some of the plays that Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin is expecting from lanky big man Japeth Aguilar, who is excited to serve as the “utility man” for the Nationals in the Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament set from June 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Considered by many as the most athletic player in the country today, the 6-foot-9 Aguilar, 29, is eager to utilize his leaping ability to the hilt while serving as the most ideal frontcourt partner of naturalized player Andray Blatche, who is tipped to carry most of the offensive load for Gilas anew.

And the Barangay Ginebra big man, the first overall pick in the 2009 pro league rookie draft, seems up to the challenge, even if it means he has to thrive more on the defensive end and let the 6-foot-11 Blatche do most of the offensive damage.

“Oo parang ganun,” was Aguilar’s curt reply when asked if he’s tasked to do more of the dirty job for the Nationals.

“Gusto niya (Baldwin) na gawin ko ‘yung role ko which is to have my teammates open, set -up ko sila. Maganda ang ibigay kong screen. Crash the boards. Tumulong sa defense at mga hustle plays.”

A proud standout of Western Kentucky U, Aguilar admitted he’s hardly concerned with his lesser role on the offensive end since Baldwin’s system could allow him to play comfortably on the ‘5’-position—depending on how he communicates with Blatche inside.

“Actually ang kagandahan ng system ni coach Tab, kahit na sa 5-spot ako, pwede ko pa rin gawin kung ano ang laro ko. ‘Yun ang maganda sa sistema,” he said. “‘Pag nasa loob ng game kami, kailangan lang may communication kami ni Dray.”

Allowing Blatche, a former NBA journeyman, to play as a stretch-4 for the Nationals could also create several mismatches, added Aguilar.

“‘Yung strength ni Andray talaga sa labas. Pero kaya niya rin naman maglaro sa loob. Preferably, mas gusto niya (Baldwin) si andray sa labas kasi nagkakaroon ng mismatch. Kasi ‘yung skills niya..si Andray magaling talaga.

Maganda rin ball handling skill rin siya kaya talagang makakapag-create ng mismatch—mismatch lahat sa kanya,” he pointed out.

Playing the 5-position is new to Aguilar, who’s been serving as the power forward for Ginebra to complement towering center Greg Slaughter. But that doesn’t mean he will have limited room on their offense.

“Dito may chance rin ako lumaro sa mid-range. To initate the offense, ako lang ‘yung nasa baba, nasa loob,” he said.

“Kapag offense, ako mag-i-initiate sa loob, tapos siya (Blatche) sa labas.”

How far Aguilar has thrived on his new role will be put to a stern test on Wednesday when they take on Asian powerhouse Iran in a televised tuneup match.

“Sa practice okay naman. Pero malaking test namin pag makakaharap na namin ‘yung ibang international players. Doon ko mage-gauge talaga kung paano ang magiging laro ko,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad

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