Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What to do with Japeth Aguilar? Redux

By now, most everyone has heard that controversial figure Japeth Aguilar has been dropped from the Smart Gilas program.

If you aren’t familiar with the whole backstory of how Japeth ended up in Gilas in the first place, here’s the abridged version. Aguilar burst into the scene by joining the PBA-backed national team Powerade Team Pilipinas while also expressing desire to play with the younger Smart Gilas program. He then proceeded to take himself out of consideration for Gilas after entering in the 2009 PBA Draft, where he was picked 1st overall by the Burger King Whoppers (now the Air21 Express). Aguilar and his agents then attempted to strong-arm the league by refusing to sign with the team that drafted him in order to play for Gilas. After threats of a PBA ban and some bigwig board meetings, it was eventually worked out that Burger King would trade Aguilar to Talk N Text for draft picks, with a provision saying that Aguilar could not play for the Texters until his Gilas stint ends whether it be by elimination at the 2011 FIBA Asia Olympic qualifiers or at the 2012 London Olympics.

And, well, nobody considered the possibility that Japeth could be cut before then.

To be fair, we have to mention that the injury factor is huge. With the team this close to the FIBA Asia qualifiers, and with PBA reinforcements suddenly becoming an option, there really is no need for Gilas to wait for Aguilar to recover from the knee injury he sustained right before the Asian Games, especially if the partial PCL team could include surgery.

But even without the injury, Aguilar has had a mostly uneventful stint with the national team. He was installed as an early starter, playing minutes alongside CJ Giles in the short-lived Gilas PBA stint in 2009, but has steadily declined, eventually conceding his starting 4 spot to Aldrech Ramos and sometimes, the severely undersized Mac Baracael. With PBA bigs Asi Taulava and Kelly Williams lending some aid to the Gilas frontcourt in the Asian Games, and with the lingering pain in his knee, Aguilar just became expendable. That has led to his sad, but ultimately deserved cut from the team.

And it’s a shame, considering that some insiders once called him “the best player of Gilas in practice.”

So what now for the athletic young big man? Well, his new mother team, TNT is asking the PBA to allow him to suit up for the Texters next conference since, technically, his Smart Gilas commitment is officially over.

And I don’t think anyone should cry foul over that matter, despite the agreement that says he can be released to TNT after 2011 FIBA Asia qualifiers at the earliest. Burger King/Air21 was able to get a pretty sweet draft pick in exchange for Aguilar and that helped them collect the top three picks in the 2010 draft. And though their pick of Rey Guevarra at #3 was a bit of a reach, they came away like bandits, scoring the big man duo of Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Nonoy Baclao.

Plus, TNT is willing to make some very valuable players, arguably more valuable than Aguilar, available for the national team, so it isn’t like they’re gaining a significant edge over the other PBA teams by asking for an early Japeth release.

Team politics aside, though, I would love to see Japeth back on the court soon. It would at least take some sting off of what is a sad ending for the national team stint of one of the more promising young players we’ve seen in recent years.

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