MANILA, Philippines – It sometimes doesn't feel like it because he's often a quiet figure but Japeth Aguilar has been with the Philippine national men's basketball since 2009.
And over that span of time, he's steadily morphed into a leadership role he now holds as Gilas Pilipinas goes through the 2017 SEABA Championships.
The 6-foot-9 big man earned the praise of longtime national team coach Chot Reyes after a breakout performance against Thailand on Tuesday, May 16.
"He's been here from the start of the Gilas program but he's only , there's a lot of basketball left in Japeth," Reyes said after the 108-53 victory, the latest in a string of blowouts in this tournament by the more superior Filipinos.
"More than the longevity, it's his maturity. In the previous games he was content with playing a support role, setting screens, and rebounding. When Thailand did a good job on our other offensive weapons, Japeth came through."
Aguilar posted a tournament-high 23 points and 5 rebounds. The Barangay Ginebra star made all 10 of his field goal attempts, which included highlight dunks and a 3-pointer, in just 17 minutes of play. His only miss of the night came from the free throw line, where he went two-of-3.
Aguilar sparked a decisive 33-12 surge in the second quarter to turn a 4-point first quarter lead to another lopsided affair.
Before Tuesday night, the fourth game of the tournament, Aguilar averaged just 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds.
"Patient lang talaga. Hindi ko nga hinahanap 'yung score. Kaso 'pag nakukuha ko, libre naman ako," Aguilar said of his performance.
(I was just patient. I wasn't looking to score. But whenever I got the ball, I was free for a shot.)
"Lahat ng mga tira ko, almost near the basket, kaya crashing the boards, offensive rebounds, saktong napupunta naman sa akin 'yung bola," he added.
(All my shots are almost near the basket, so I was crashing the boards, going for offensive rebounds, and the ball happened to get into my hands.)
Coming in with the second unit, Aguilar said, was key to how he played.
"Siguro coming off the bench ako, medyo nakikita ko 'yung nangyayari, kung ano 'yung kulang. Kasi close game nung umpisa tapos parang medyo kailangan ng team to get going."
(Maybe because I'm coming off the bench so I see what's happening and what's lacking. It was a close game at first and the team needed to get going.)
Prior to the huge second quarter run, Gilas Pilipinas had been struggling for some offensive rhythm. It resulted into just 18 points in the first quarter, the fewest Gilas scored in an opening period the tournament so far. They averaged 33 points during first quarters of their previous 3 games.
Aguilar has seen a number of iterations already of Gilas Pilipinas, including the 2013 FIBA Asia silver medal team and the 2014 World Cup squad.
At 30 years old, he is now expected to be more vocal and share experiences and wisdom to the up and coming members, along with longtime Gilas teammate Jayson Castro.
Reyes is seeing Aguilar's evolution now, and his taking over Tuesday night was deservedly commended.
"That's how the team is built. We want to make sure we have a lot of weapons at our disposal, and [on Tuesday night] Japeth was the most lethal of them," Reyes said.
"I think it's just the continuing maturation of Japeth." – Rappler.com