LOS ANGELES –The National Basketball Association (NBA) dream lives on for Filipino basketball player Japeth Aguilar.
The NBA Golden State Warrior affiliate, Santa Cruz Warriors, selected the 25-year-old Aguilar with the 13th pick in the seventh round of the NBA Development League draft on Friday night (Saturday in Manila).
Around 9 p.m. Eastern Time, the 6’9”, 210 pound forward became the first pure Filipino to be drafted by an NBA team or affiliate.
“When we saw his name still on the board, we immediately jumped at the chance to grab him,” said Kirk Lacob, the Santa Cruz Warriors’ general manager.
“He worked out with us during one of our local tryouts. We’re very impressed with his ability. We think he has a chance to continue to develop and turn into a really good player,” Lacob added.
When reached by phone, emotion poured through the line as Aguilar spoke about being selected.
“It was very nerve wracking for me. It was crazy,” he said. “This is just the start. Right now, I’m going to do anything I can to help the team win. My goal now is when I get there to learn as quick as possible.”
Three years ago, Aguilar passed on playing in the NBA D-League out of Western Kentucky to play in the Philippine Basketball Association. Standing 6’9”, most Filipino basketball fans expected him to dominate a league littered with 6’5 centers. He was the first pick in the PBA draft in 2009 but his play there is best described as underwhelming.
Splitting his time playing for the PBA Talk N’ Text and the Smart Gilas Philippine National Team, coaching and positional differences mostly left him relegated to the bench and thus, unable to reach his full potential.
With his PBA contract expired, he ventured out to the US to pursue a life long dream in the NBA. After trying out for several NBA and NBA D-League teams, and now being drafted, he believes this is his chance for a fresh start.
“I’ve matured enough [in the past two years]. What people don’t think is the D-League is an equal opportunity [place] for everybody,” he said. “It doesn’t [matter] if you have low stats in college or on a National team, it’s all about learning through the process and improving. This is an equal opportunity for me to show them my skills. When you grow old, you don’t make the same mistake as you made in the past. The goal really now is to learn the system, work hard and improve everyday.”
Being drafted does not ensure Aguilar of a roster spot on the team.
Aguilar will receive an invite to training camp, where he’ll compete against returning NBA D-League, affiliate players and invited local tryout players.
“There’s only ten spots available so these guys are all going to have to claw and scratch their way onto the team,” said Lacob.
But if he makes the team and continues to develop there’s a chance for him to get called up to the NBA Warriors. Last year, 42 players in the NBA D-League reached the NBA.
“It doesn’t stop here,” said Chris McGarry, Aguilar’s agent. “It’s just starting. Japeth is just scratching the surface of his potential. Now he’ll be exposed to better tutoring, coaching, and he’ll be able to adapt to the US brand of play.”
Lacob said he really likes Aguilar’s length, athleticism and expects the Filipino forward to adjust to the “faster speed” of the game and against bigger guys.
Pinoys come out to support Japeth
The NBA D-League draft is unlike the more formal NBA draft where NBA Commissioner David Stern or Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver stands behind a podium to read the name of the selected player in Madison Square Garden and fans boo or cheer the pick.
The D-League draft was a live teleconference hosted on a real-time chat site on the league’s website where fans could listen to each NBA D-League team draft a player and chat.
With a high percentage chance that Aguilar was going to get drafted, Filipino fans came out in full force to witness the event.
Once Aguilar’s name was called, the chat was filled with congratulatory messages for the Filipino basketball player.
“Way to go Japeth,” read one message.
“I hope Japeth goes there to prove himself,” read another.
It’s this kind of support – not in chat but in person - that the Santa Cruz Warriors hope Aguilar could bring with him, drawing in the large basketball-loving Bay Area Filipino American population. The SC Warriors recently built a brand new 2,700 seat, 33,000-square-foot basketball facility in downtown Santa Cruz.
“That [Japeth being Filipino] didn’t really matter to us,” said Lacob. “We always take the best players available but I think that is significant. There is a large Filipino population in the Bay Area. I think there’ll be a lot of support for him and we hope people come out and support him.”
Some notable names that were drafted in the D-League include Glenn Rice Jr., Ralph Sampson III, Jeremiah Rivers (son of Doc Rivers) and Austen Powers – yah baby.
The first pick of the draft was JaJuan Johnson out of Purdue by the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.