Japeth Aguilar Sure to be No. 1?

On: 09 July 2009

Aguilar as a Hilltopper

By Joaquin M. Henson
Philippine Star, 5 July 2009

If Japeth Aguilar decides to apply for this year’s PBA draft, he’s sure to be the No. 1 overall pick which belongs to Burger King. But if he doesn’t, the honor will no doubt go to La Salle’s Rico Maierhofer.

Burger King coach Yeng Guiao has been pursuing Aguilar for months – even when he was still in the US. There’s a special bond that links Guiao to Aguilar’s family, particularly his father Peter who once played in the PBA.

Guiao has promised Peter he will take care of his son’s playing career. That promise is sacred, from one Capampangan to another. Peter works in a factory in Chicago and of course, would like nothing but the best for his son. Aguilar will play on the national team that Guiao is coaching in the Jones Cup next week and may also be tapped for the Powerade squad seeing action at the FIBA-Asia Championships in Tianjin on Aug. 6-16.

The deadline to apply for the PBA draft is 24 July. But Aguilar hinted he may say yes to Guiao before the Powerade team leaves for the Jones Cup.

SBP executive director Noli Eala is also involved in the Aguilar sweepstakes. Eala is making a pitch for Aguilar to join the Smart-Gilas developmental team that Serbian coach Rajko Toroman is building for the Asian Games in Guangzhou next year and the 2011 FIBA-Asia Championships, the qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics.

If Aguilar joins Smart-Gilas, he will be restrained from applying for the PBA draft. Eala, however, said Aguilar will not be prevented from signing a contract to play in Europe, the NBA D-League or the NBA itself. Since Aguilar is only 22, Eala said he will be just right for the PBA in three years.

Aguilar wasn’t particularly dominant in his first game with Powerade, collecting eight points, six rebounds and four blocked shots in 24 minutes against the Soldiers for Christ at the San Juan Arena last Thursday. He looked his best playing alongside fellow Capampangan Arwind Santos as Powerade won, 100-94, but Asi Taulava, he’s not – at least, not yet.

At the moment, Aguilar isn’t the franchise player his drumbeaters are insisting he is. The drumbeaters are of course doing a disservice to Aguilar because they’re putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on the kid.

If he plays for Burger King next season, Aguilar isn’t likely to produce big numbers. In time, he’ll dominate but at the start, he’s expected to be a building block in the Whoppers’ future. Besides, Guiao isn’t the type to build a team around one player – he’s an equal opportunity coach and that’s been the trademark of his success in the game.

Is Aguilar better than Ranidel de Ocampo or Jay-R Reyes or Kerby Raymundo or Eric Menk at this point? Is he ready to be a force in the PBA right now?

Burger King has three picks in the first round – No. 1 (from Barako Bull in the Gabby Espinas trade), No. 4 (its own) and No. 9 (from Talk ‘N’ Text in the multi-player trade involving Yancy de Ocampo, Leo Avenido, Mark Andaya and Abby Santos).

The second overall pick is Shell’s property. But alas, the Shell franchise no longer exists – it was sold to Rain Or Shine management. The sale did not include the draft pick which would’ve increased the buying price for sure. The pick was originally Coca-Cola’s but it eventually landed with Shell.

Since Rain Or Shine bought the Shell franchise, the owners sought an opinion from the PBA Board on whether they could exercise the draft right – even if there were papers proving the pick was excluded from the deal.

According to PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon, it is a league rule that once a franchise is disbanded, whatever rights to a draft pick are forfeited. The rights are not transferable unless negotiated before the disbandment.

For the record, here’s the order of the first round picks – No. 1 Burger King (from Barako Bull), No. 2 none (forfeited by Shell), No. 3 Purefoods, No. 4 Burger King, No. 5 Rain Or Shine, No. 6 Alaska, No. 7 Sta. Lucia Realty, No. 8 Barangay Ginebra, No. 9 Burger King (from Talk ‘N’ Text) and No. 10 San Miguel Beer.

If Aguilar doesn’t apply, Burger King will likely tap Maierhofer who’s clearly ready for the pros. In fact, scouts are claiming he’ll make more of an impact as a rookie than Aguilar if the former Western Kentucky center joins the draft. Maierhofer is used to playing major minutes before loud Filipino audiences – in the UAAP and PBL. Aguilar isn’t. What Aguilar has over Maierhofer is the invaluable training he got with the Hilltoppers.

But in a one-on-one duel, it’s not certain that Aguilar can make mincemeat of Maierhofer. In fact, the betting is Maierhofer won’t make it easy for Aguilar and might just win. Maierhofer is familiar with the Filipino style of play – fans like to call it 'abilidad' – while Aguilar has still some catching up to do.

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