By Jonas Terrado
Japeth Aguilar finally got his long-overdue recognition as one of the best big man Friday night when the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel cager received the PBA Press Corps-Honda Finals Most Valuable Player Friday night.
Often a source of ridicule for inconsistent play, Aguilar turned into a different breed during the Governors’ Cup Finals triumph over Meralco as Ginebra’s defensive anchor while also showing the athleticism that has been his trademark ever since.
“It’s just maturity lang talaga,” said Aguilar, who posted series averages of 17.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.4 blocks to earn the unanimous choice of the PBA beat reporters.
“It’s just learning, never stop from growing,” he added. “Sa lahat ng mga conference na minsan we fall short on our goal, we just keep learning lang talaga. Pasalamat ako sa mga coaches dahil tinutulungan nila ako sa maturity ko dito sa PBA.”
PBA followers may have finally realized the Aguilar may expected would be when he first strutted his wares as a member of the original Gilas Pilipinas team under Serbian coach Rajko Toroman in 2009.
High expectations followed him after turning pro, first with a one-game stint with Burger King followed by stops at Talk ’N Text and GlobalPort before being traded to Ginebra in 2013.
Even during Ginebra’s previous title runs, Aguilar was rarely noticed for his contributions with import Justin Brownlee, Finals MVPs LA Tenorio and Scottie Thompson and Greg Slaughter.
But things were different in this latest Ginebra celebration as Aguilar lorded the paint through his shot-blocking ability.
He finished the series with 17 blocks highlighted by a last-second block on Allen Durham that sealed Ginebra’s Game 1 and the seven swats he registered in Game 3.
“Coming to this series, talagang tinake-on ko lang yung challenge,” he said. “Alam namin yung strength ni Durham and for me, focus lang talaga ako sa role ko.”
The absence of Raymond Almazan to a knee injury, Aguilar said, also played a key role in their triumph.
“I’m just thankful sa Basketball Gods kasi it went our way. I’m talking about yung pagkawala ni Raymond. Malaking bagay si Raymond sa Meralco talaga so we just took on that opportunity.”
In the clincher, Aguilar blocked four, including one from a frustrated Durham in the fourth quarter. He eventually went back to his dunking abilities to finish with 25 points and a 105-93 win before 17,000 fans.
No one was probably happier than coach Tim Cone, who thought Aguilar made a statement since the series started.
“I think he made a statement in Game 1 and he made another statement in the following games,” said Cone. “He was consistent through and through. Just a total game of being on the outside taking shots, on the inside getting drop passes and dunks, running the floor. Just a total game, defensively and offensively.
“He’s turned into such a great weapon and a tough matchup for anybody, even imports. He’s a tough matchup too.”
For Cone, there’s still more Aguilar can offer.
“I just think he’s gonna get better and better and better,” he said. “He just now coming into his own even though he’s 32 years old. I think he’s got his three or four years ahead of him still.”