Monday, September 10, 2012

Japeth impresses Bakersfield Jam coaches

Source : Asian Journal

LOS ANGELES – TO former Philippine Basketball Association No. 1 pick Japeth Aguilar, it’s now or never.

There is an urgency in the 25-year-old Aguilar, who is in the U.S. right now planning to showcase his basketball skills in front of National Basketball Association and NBA Development League executives and coaches.

The 6’9” Aguilar wants to be the first Philippine born player to make it in the NBA.

“I think about it a lot of times,” said Aguilar to the Asian Journal and ABS-CBN. “Sometimes I pray to God because He gave me this ability, He gave me this athleticism, He gave me the height. I’m just thinking what is my purpose?”

Aguilar believes his purpose is to make it in the NBA or at least do all he can to try and make it.

For Aguilar, so far so good.

Over the weekend, the former PBA Burger King Whopper and Talk N Text Tropang Texters, made a good impression on coaches and officials for the NBA D-League team Bakersfield Jam during an open try out held at East Los Angeles College.

“Japeth is an intriguing player,” said Will Voigt, head coach of the Jam. “Obviously, his length and athleticism. He’s been playing as a four or a five (power forward / center) in the Philippines we’ll have to transition him into a three (small forward). It’s going to be a process for him. But he’s shown flashes throughout the weekend that makes you want to see more.”

Aguilar arrived in the U.S. from the Philippines last week. On a whim, he decided to try out for the Jam, the development league affiliate for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors.

Joining Aguilar were more than 80 basketball players – many of them recently finishing their college career in the NCAA Division I Pac-12. There were ballers from the University of Southern California, Oregon and UCLA, according to Jam assistant general manager Bryan Levy.

Saturday began with 80 players before coaches whittled the list down to 20 by the end of the day. Aguilar was one of the 20 chosen to come back and play in the “All Star scrimmage” Sunday.

On Sunday, Aguilar didn’t disappoint.

Despite his team losing 62 – 48, Aguilar’s performance stood out. He scored 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting, grabbed four rebounds, blocked five shots and had one assist. Six of his ten points came as dunks. One dunk came from a breakaway, and another from an alley-oop in bound pass from the baseline.

Coaches praised the Filipino’s performance afterward.

Voigt said he likes Aguilar’s game and sees a lot of potential in him.

“I thought his athleticism really stood out,” said Voigt. “He didn’t really shoot the ball as well as he has in the past. But his size and length, the way he moves, I think he just made a lot of plays just based on that.”

Jam Assistant Coach John Bryant called Aguilar a very intriguing prospect because of the Filipino’s length, size and athleticism.

Bryant commended the Filipino’s game saying Aguilar has “one of the quickest second jumps I’ve seen in a long time. You know, grab a rebound, put it up and dunk it really fast.”

But Bryant also noticed the one knock on Aguilar that has dogged him since becoming a professional. He needs to be tougher and assertive in the game, he said.

“I think right now he’s a little too passive. He has to be the man,” said Bryant. “He has to be able to knock down that corner three [pointer] consistently and if that corner three is not working, then a one or two dribble pull up and shoot… [and] mix that with some aggression. I want to see him throw an elbow or something. Get out of his shell a little and play loose. [Then] I think he’ll really be something special.”

Aguilar said he thinks he did well competing against a pretty solid group of guys.

“There are a few things I need to work on like strength wise and stamina but overall I think I did okay,” he said after the game. “I gave everything that I can do it’s just waiting now.”

Pursuing a Dream

Waiting. It’s something that Aguilar knows well. This is the second time he has tried out for the NBA D-league. The first occurred in 2009 after he graduated from Western Kentucky in 2009. Filled with NBA dreams, he waited for a phone call. No D-League team drafted him.

He made himself available for the PBA draft and was chosen No. 1. He was immediately traded to the Texters. He split his time with the Texters and the Smart Gilas Philippine National Team competing against countries around the world. Last season, in limited playing time in the PBA, he averaged six points and four rebounds a game.

Now, with his PBA contract expired, Aguilar said he came to the U.S. to give the NBA – his dream - another shot.

“I just thought about it. It was now or never,” said Aguilar. “I’m 25 years old right now and I think its perfect timing. My contract just expired. I just want to look at it and hope for the best.”

Aguilar said he knows he has a lot of work to do if he wants to make it not only on a NBA roster or maybe a NBA D-League roster. He said he’s learned a lot since that first time he tried out for the D-League in 2009.

He said he gained experience playing in the Philippines and learned how to become a professional. He’s also learned how to better read plays defensively and create for his teammates on the offensive side of the court.

Aguilar is going to need to do a lot more if he wants to make it on the team, said Jam officials.

The 6’9”, 210 pound Aguilar has played power forward or center most of his college and professional career when he’s best suited to be a small forward especially in the NBA, coaches said.

Voigt and Bryant said Aguilar would need to work on his ball handling skills and outside shot. He needs to get stronger and be more aggressive. Defensively, Aguilar seems to be a natural shot blocker but he would also need to learn how to guard quicker small forwards, they said.

“Everyday in the gym, he needs to bring all of his skills,” said Bryant.

"He's a very raw talent," Bryant added. "That's a good thing. We're called the developmental league for a reason."

Voigt said if Aguilar does make the Jam team, they would need to place him in a nutritional track that includes eating six times a day so he could bulk up.

Another important thing that Jam officials said about Aguilar is that they all agreed he needs more seasoning in the U.S. Frankly, the game in the U.S. is played differently than the international game.

Guys here are tougher, assertive and not afraid to be physical when they need to, said Levy.

“He’s got some work to do still but he’s getting there,” said Levy, the Jam assistant GM. “I think playing in the states this year whether it’s on a D-League level if he does not make it in a NBA camp is the right way to go for him. He needs to develop in an NBA style and an NBA system. That’ll probably be the best way for him. He’s got to continue to work hard and do what the coaches want him to do.”

Overall, Bakersfield Jam officials were impressed with Aguilar.

They cautioned, though, that this was only the first of four open try outs the team is hosting.

Voigt said he and his team of coaches and general manager were probably going to evaluate between 400 to 500 players – in open tryouts in Phoenix, Atlanta, and Bakersfield - within the next month for maybe “four or five roster spots.”

“Last year, four guys from the open try outs made it to our opening night roster,” said Bryant. “Two guys made it throughout the whole season.”

Jam officials said they are not going to make an official decision until mid-October.

Aside from waiting for the Jam’s decision, one of Aguilar’s handlers in the U.S. said they’ve already planned a private workout with the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and are in contact with executives from the Orland Magic for a workout later this week.

Possible PBA Year Off?

Aguilar did not boldly say it but some sources close to him – who did not want to be named - said he might consider skipping playing in the PBA this year to solely focus on training in the U.S. if he does not get picked up by a D-League or NBA team.

The source said it’s only a consideration.

Aguilar’s agent Matthew Manotoc of EMBM said he’s working on a contract with a “PBA Team” for Aguilar’s services but did not disclose the team.

Aguilar said he just wants to try and play in the next and highest level in the world – the NBA.

“Like I said I’m 25 years old. Next year I’ll be 26,” said Aguilar. “I think I’m still young to play in the PBA. If [the NBA] is not for me then at least I tried. I don’t want to have any regrets. I just want to try. I think every basketball player given the opportunity they would take it. Hopefully, the Filipino fans would understand.”

“I can’t live without trying,” he added. “I’m very determined to improve everyday. I’m doing workouts everyday and spending a lot of time in the gym doing everything I can improve on.”

He said he hopes Filipinos back home could understand what he’s trying to accomplish – to live his dream of playing one day in the NBA.

Bryant, the Jam assistant head coach who played in the D-League and internationally in Germany, Australia and England, said the road to the NBA is tough. He puts it in perspective.

“Making it in the NBA is like winning in the lottery,” he said. “A lot of people think it’s an easy task. It’s extremely difficult.”

Aguilar has a ticket. In the next few months, he’ll know if it’s a winner.

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