MANILA, Philippines – While the Santa Cruz Warriors are off to a great 2-1 start on the road in the NBA D-League, Japeth Aguilar is back in Chicago looking for a fresh start.
Aguilar, who was the last player to be cut by the Warriors, has accepted the team’s offer to become a practice player hoping to land a roster spot if not this season, hopefully next year.
“Comfortable ako sa team and I’m thankful for the opportunity. Maganda yung ipinapakita nila sa akin. Inaalagaan nila kami dun (I’m comfortable with the team and I’m thankful for the opportunity. They’re treating me well and taking good care of us),” Aguilar told Philstar.com/NBA Philippines in an exclusive interview.
Santa Cruz coach Nate Bjorkgren has high praises for the Filipino hopeful but said Aguilar needs to continue to improve to make the big leap.
“I really enjoyed coaching him. He's a great runner. He did pretty well in our training camp but there are players who are ahead of him at this point. I offered him to practice with us when no team picked him up from the waivers,” Bjorkgren told Philstar.com/NBA Philippines a few hours after their second straight win over the Reno Big Horns, 95-79, last Sunday night (Monday in Manila).
“We want to help him. Hopefully, he’ll gain more experience practicing with us and prepare him to crack any D-League team, if not with us, in the course of the season,” Bjorkgren added.
Aguilar earlier survived two cuts from 17-man training camp pool down to the Final 12. He was waived by Santa Cruz, the Golden State Warriors’ affiliate, right before the NBA D-League season opened last Nov. 23. The league allows a maximum of 12 players in the season roster but the teams usually has a 10-11 man roster reserving a spot or two for players, who will be assigned by their affiliate NBA teams.
“Kinausap niya ako (Coach Nate) kasi sabi niya nasa tough situation siya. Parang sabi niya maraming players sa ngayon ahead sa akin galing sa NBA training camp (Coach Nate talked to me and told me that he’s in tough situation. He said that there are many players, who came from the league (NBA) and has attended NBA training camps that are ahead of me),” Aguilar said.
The former PBA overall top pick will return to Santa Cruz after the Warriors’ 10-day road trip.
But while the team is busy on the road, the 6-foot-9 Filipino hopeful continues to train and work hard at home in Chicago City, where his parents are based.
“Three months na akong nagsasakripisyo dito. Konting patience lang baka sakaling may mangyari (I’ve been sacrificing for the last three months. Just a little more patience and who knows, something might happen),” Aguilar said.
Drafted 109th overall pick by the Warriors, Aguilar is not losing hope after all he’s been through since leaving the Philippines when his contract with the Talk ‘n Text Tropang Texters in the PBA expired at the end of the last season.
“Mas confident na akong maglaro ngayon lalo mga Amerikano nakakalaro ko araw-araw. Gusto nilang matutunan ko yung ‘hybrid’ power forward or what they also call as stretch forward (I’m more confident now with my game especially I’m going up against American players everyday. They want me to learn how to play the ‘hybrid’ power forward or stretch forward),” Aguilar said.
“Yung parang si Kevin Love na tumitira sa labas. ‘Yung big man na may laro sa loob at labas. (It’s like Kevin Love who shoots from the outside. It’s the big man who can play both inside and outside),” Aguilar explained.
Back home in the Philippines, a contract extension from Talk ‘n Text and an invitation to try out for a spot in the Gilas national team await Aguilar. But the Pampanga native, who starred for the Ateneo Blue Eagles before joining the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the NCAA Division I in college, is bidding his time before making a decision to forego his ‘American Dream’ and return to the Philippines.
“Yun nga yung dini-deal ko ngayon. Binibigyan ko sarili ko siguro until the second conference of the PBA. Kasi ang hirap din. Three months na rin akong walang income. Pero yun nga, sabi ko sa sarili ko ‘wag muna ako magmadali (That’s what I’m dealing right now. I’m giving myself maybe until the second conference of the PBA. It’s hard for me. It’s been three months already that I don’t earn an income. But as I said to myself, I don’t need to rush things),” Aguilar added.
The 25-year old athletic big man does not want to look back in the future and live in regrets thinking of the “what if’s’’. It’s a tough journey but Aguilar is willing to pay the price to chase his life-long dream.