The Saga of Japeth Aguilar

‘Who is Japeth Aguilar?’
Very few players in the history of Philippine Basketball has been as polarizing as Japeth Aguilar. First of all, who is Japeth Aguilar? Japeth is the son of former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) player Peter Aguilar. Peter was listed as 6’6″, and played most of his PBA career with Ginebra San Miguel, one of the most popular teams ever in the history of the league.

Peter ended up with a son in Japeth that is taller than he is at 6’9″. Now, despite being a Basketball-crazy country, Filipinos are generally short, with Centers and Forwards generally averaging only around the 6’4″-6’6″. So any player over 6’7″ automatically generates a LOT of interest.

What makes Japeth even more intriguing is that not only is he taller than average, he is also quite athletic. He has an excellent vertical leaping ability, enabling him to dunk the ball consistently with ease with both hands, even during actual games. The last Filipino player I remember having this capability was the high-leaping 6’4″ Benjie Paras.

‘Tragic Expectations’
That combination of height and leaping ability has captured the imagination of most Philippine Basketball fans. For so long we have been unable to send a player to the National Basketball Association (NBA), and suddenly here is someone who is quick, tall and can jump high. Being a Basketball-crazy country, they (sadly) ignorantly thought he was an automatic NBA-caliber player. And most tragic of all, Japeth himself has been convinced of this idea.

The reality is that while Japeth is tall, and has excellent athleticism, he lacks the tools to become a good Basketball player. For one, he lacks the COORDINATION to be able to move well with the ball. You can see this clearly when he does his low-post moves, in which he is quite awkward with the ball. As a result, his post moves are now almost non-existent.
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The Kraken Cometh

It is rare to find 6’9″ and above players in the Philippines. In the last decade, probably only a handful have come up and ended up as basketball players in college. Rarer still, is a Filipino 6’9″ player who can actually play basketball well. Hence imagine the impact that fired up the imagination of most Filipino Basketball fans, when such a player finally came into the local basketball scene. And that player, is Junmar “The Kraken” Fajardo.

‘The Kraken’
Clash of the Titans 2009 Kraken PosterSome of the Interbasket forumers has given the nickname, “The Kraken” to Junmar, thanks in part to the popularity of the 2009 Hollywood movie, “Clash of the Titans”. In that movie, the Kraken was Zeus’ ultimate weapon, a legendary monster of the sea of enormous, size capable of destroying anything in its path.

From a basketball point of view, Junmar does seem like the Kraken of Cebu basketball. He is currently the tallest and biggest player there, and similar to the Kraken, his combination of size and skill can lay waste to any basketball opposition in that area. In fact, Junmar is the main reason that the UC Webmasters have been able to win the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI) crown this year, its very first in the league.

Fajardo was first noticed a couple of years ago when he started dominating some of the semi-commercial, pre-season tournaments in Cebu that the University of Cebu (UC) was playing in. More impressive still, was the fact that in some of these tournaments, even as a freshman, he was able to hold his own against the main Cebuano veteran big man then, the 6’5″ Rino Berame.

At that time, he was already described as 6’7″, but now he has reportedly grown to 6’10”. Over the years, he has mainly been playing in Cebu, and basketball fans naturally wonder how he would fare against teams based in Manila. Although he did get to play against various Manila college and professional teams in exhibition games, in my opinion, such exhibition matches do not really reflect true competition for him, as teams and opposing players tend to play it lightly in such games.

‘PCCL Competition’
Junmar The Kraken, in more ways than oneA true competition for Junmar, would be when he is ranged to play against good teams with good players, in a serious tournament. Such a tournament is the Philippine Collegiate Championship League (PCCL), which gathers the best basketball college schools in the Philippines to play against one another in a short tournament format. So far, Junmar as a UC Webmaster has played in three PCCL tournaments, against four National Collegiate Association (NCAA) and University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) teams.

The first was in 2008, against NCAA team Letran University Knights. Letran, an NCAA Final Four team that year, then had some good big men in 6’3″ Dino Daa, and 6’5″ John Foronda. In that game, Junmar played well, scoring 24 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and blocking 9 shots. Fajardo though was overshadowed in terms of scoring output by Dino Daa, who scored 27 points.

The next was in 2009, this time against UAAP powerhouse the University of the East (UE) Red Warriors. The Red Warriors, a UAAP title finalist that year, had a couple of good, big men in the highly athletic, 6’3″ Elmer Espiritu, and not flashy but effective 6’4″ Pari Llagas. Against such a frontline, Junmar again gave a good performance, scoring 24 points. Elmer and Pari, though, also played well against Fajardo’s defense, scoring 14 and 17 points respectively.
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Battle of the Rookie Big Men in the UAAP Season 74: Slaughter versus Van Opstal

One of the highlights of in Basketball in the next season of the Universities and Athletics Association of the Philippines (its 74th season), would be the battle of the rookie big men between perennial University rivals Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) and De La Salle University (DLSU).

On one side, in the blue corner, wearing blue and white uniform, standing 6’11”, weighing 240 lbs … playing for the AdMU Blue Eagles … Grrrreeeeeeg Slaaaauuuuu-TER!!!

On the other side, in the green corner, wearing green and white uniform, standing 6’9″, weighing 230 lbs … playing for the DLSU Green Archers … Arrrrrnold … Vaaaaan Ops-STAAAAALLLLL!!!

While players of such heights are common in collegiate leagues in taller countries, not so in the Philippines. Its is relatively rare to find players of such height, not to mention skill, to be in one university or collegiate league at the same time.

In fact, the last time such a pair of tall players ended up in the UAAP, was in the late 80s, with 6’9″ Marlou Aquino playing for the Adamson Falcons, and 6’11” EJ Feihl playing for the University of Santo Tomas (then known as) Glowing Goldies.
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The Rabeh Al-Husseini PBA Number One Draft Snub

I have been “weaning” myself away from basketball, but still knew enough to be shocked by the news when Air21 picked Nonoy Baclao over Rabeh Al-Husseini as the number one pick overall in the 2010 PBA Rookie Draft.

I have nothing against Nonoy, I think he is a good player, and will have a long, storied career in the PBA. Baclao reminds me a lot of a younger, taller, more talented version of Freddie Abuda, because he is a player who gets things done in the frontline by virtue of hard work, determination, and heart.

However, in terms of awards (Season MVP versus Finals MVP), and statistics in college, there is no doubt that Rabeh has a clear advantage over Nonoy. So why would Air21 intentionally pick Nonoy over Rabeh as the number one pick?

I don’t agree with Air21’s assertion that it didn’t matter because they had three first picks in the draft. A number one pick automatically puts you in the PBA history books, and carries a lot of prestige with it, so it does matter.

As to why, I can only hazard these guesses:

* Air21 Sees More Potential in Baclao Than Rabeh, and Thus Considers Him as More of a Priority
– Despite Rabeh’s better accomplishments and statistics, maybe they saw something in Nonoy that made them think he is the more promising player than Rabeh. They are, of course entitled to their own opinions, but right now, it is just that: Subjective Opinions, as opposed to hard facts and statistics.
– Besides, even if they think Nonoy has more “potential”, the word “potential” means it MAY, or MAY NOT happen. Then again, they are the experts. However, even experts should not be ignoring hard, quantifiable facts. To do so is quite risky, even for them.

* Air21 Picked Nonoy Over Rabeh as a Negotiation Ploy
– Being picked number one in the PBA Draft does not only come with prestige and a place in the PBA history books, it also helps in negotiations for the contracts of the players. The agents will say, “hey, you picked my kid number one overall, he should get more extras and bonuses”. Rabeh was highly regarded, and expected to be the number one draft, and putting him at number two would sort of deflate the expectations and position of Rabeh during the negotiation phase.
– Then again, whatever “savings” they thought they could get from Rabeh is offset by the fact that Nonoy might ask more than he expected to since he was picked number one.

* Air21 Picked Nonoy Over Rabeh Because of Influence
– It could be that the people around Nonoy is closer, or has more influence than the people around Rabeh on the Air21 management. And since Air21 has the first three picks in the draft, some pushing on the part of Nonoy’s people could’ve resulted in the situation, where Nonoy got a little more prestige than Rabeh.
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Peter Aguilar, the Basketball Stage Father

When Peter Aguilar declared to everyone that Japeth could someday play in the NBA after Japeth was accepted at WKU, that raised a couple of eyebrows.

Especially people who are familiar with the US NCAA Division 1. Unlike the NCAA or UAAP where there are only less than a dozen schools in each league, the entire US NCAA Division 1 consists of three hundred plus (300) schools. So that means just getting on one, is nowhere near a guarantee to reach the NBA.

More disturbing was the fact that his son wasn’t exactly a star in the UAAP with the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles. He had a mediocre career there on his rookie season, then he got injured and missed most of the second season.

While everyone would agree that WKU is a big leap even for a school like Ateneo basketball wise, you also got to wonder if Peter thought that Ateneo was not good enough to teach his son to be a basketball star.

‘Peter Aguilar’s Basketball Dreams’
Peter Aguilar was a former player in the PBA. Standing anywhere from 6’4″ to 6’6″, he didn’t have a notable PBA career, he was basically a just journeyman, and was used mainly as an import fodder, those players who are hired just so they can give up fouls on imports.
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Joe Devance: No. 1 Pick Disappointment?

Joe DevanceThe Welcoat Dragons picked Joe Devance as the no. 1 pick overall in the 2007-2008 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Draft. Coming into the draft, Joe had excellent college and Philippine amateur basketball credentials.

While not necessarily a “standout” with the University of El Paso Texas (UTEP) Miners as some articles described him, with career career stats of 2 ppg & 1.2 rpg there, he is nevertheless a legitimate US NCAA Division 1 player and veteran. He also was the Philippine Basketball League’s (PBL) Most Valuable Player for the Unity Cup in 2006. His subsequent impressive showings in the 2007 PBL conferences and in the Rookie Draft Camps only served to strenghten his stock in the PBA draft.

Devance’s Individual Stats
The problem though, is that Joe has not really been living up thus far to the expectation that was put on him when he was picked no. 1 in the draft. Those expectations were quite high, thanks to his Manager who kept insisting that Devance is a “franchise” player. Those kinds of statements can be expected from a Manager, of course, helping Joe secure a lucrative 3-year contract. But when players do not live up to such statements, you can expect a backlash of sorts to occur.

For one thing, Joe Devance’s individual stats has not been very impressive. His shooting percentages, for example, has not been that well, as last conference, he only shot 31% from the 3-point area, and only 40% from the 2-point area. This conference, his 3-point shooting worsened to only 26%, and though his 2-point shooting improved to 42%, it is only a very marginal improvement, still below what would be acceptable from the floor.
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2008 PBA Rookies Performance (Feb 08)

Below are the game statistics of most of the rookies playing decent minutes so far. Stats are as of Feb. 9, 2008, & courtesy of the website:

JC Intal
– 20 g – 16.1 mpg – 5.95 ppg – 3-pt FG 13.2 % – 2-pt FG 28.1% – 2.7 rpg – 1.85 apg
– Final stats of the conference
– After a conference in the PBA, JC’s stats still continue to be much less than what was expected of him. He is still very much a bust. Hope he pulls thru, eventually. 6’3″ w/ his ballhandling ability are rare in this league

Ronjay Buenafe
– 21 g – 25.29 mpg – 11.81 ppg – 3-pt FG 32.2 % – 2-pt FG 35.2% – 3.05 rpg – 2 apg
– Final stats of the conference
– Ronjay’s 3-pt shooting FG has been hovering near average, but his 2-pt FG has not. Still, this 2nd rd draft pick has exceeded all expectations of him, & if he can get those FG percentages up, could be in the league for awhile. Has that rare ability to hit difficult shots, though not much of a leaper

Joe Devance
– 16 g – 30.9 mpg – 16.13 ppg – 3-pt FG 30.9 % – 2-pt FG 39.9% – 7 rpg – 1 apg
– Final stats of the conference
– With mediocre shooting from the floor, am not convinced Joe has got what it takes to be National Team material in this league, despite his height & coordination. In fact, he seems more like a “softy” to me, spending more time outside of the paint that using his 6’8″ height to dominate inside. Team starter level, but definitely not All-Star or National Team material

Ryan Reyes
– 22 g – 24.7 mpg – 9.64 ppg – 3-pt FG 33.9 % – 2-pt FG 37.4% – 5.73 rpg – 3.36 apg
– Getting major minutes, good all around game in terms of rebounding, assists, shooting, etc. But erratic on offense. One game he’ll shoot well, the next couple he won’t. Pushes the ball very fast down the floor, & good height at point. Likely to be starter material, though not necessarily all-star material
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