Aguilar reflects on tough bubble campaign: ‘Di namin akalain na magtatagal kami’

Published December 13, 2020, 1:14 PM

by Jeremiah Sevilla

Barangay Ginebra big man Japeth Aguilar was dominant inside the paint in the recently concluded PBA Philippine Cup. (PBA Images)

Japeth Aguilar was highly touted to lord over the shaded area as June Mar Fajardo was ruled out of the PBA Philippine Cup bubble. 

And the athletic big man Aguilar lived up to the lofty billing, serving as a key cog in Barangay Ginebra’s championship run in the historic season held inside the Smart Clark Giga City. 

But it wasn’t an easy task for the 33-year-old cager, who needed to buckle down to work and regain optimal condition after coming in late to the well-contained zone along with fellow veteran LA Tenorio. 

Aguilar also had to catch his breath, literally, as he was frequently seen using inhalers during timeouts. 

“Minsan nag-uusap kami ni LA. Grabe talaga ‘yung na-experience namin. ‘Di namin akalain talaga na magtatagal kami dito,” said Aguilar, who earlier admitted that he was inactive for two months prior to the season after getting caught violating health protocols by playing in a pick-up game while Tenorio went through an appendectomy.

The six-time PBA champion only has his teammates to thank for holding down the fort for the Kings as he and Tenorio took their time to get back into tip-top shape. 

Despite the two still on their road back to peak form, Ginebra cruised to a 4-0 start to their campaign. 

“Big credits sa mga teammates namin. Talagang nag-step up sila hanggang sa unti-unti na naming nakuha ‘yung conditioning namin,” said Aguilar. 
Come the Finals tussle between Ginebra and TNT, Aguilar was completely back to the form that enabled him to snag the Finals MVP in the 2019 Governor’s Cup. 

The Gilas Pilipinas stalwart muscled his way to 20.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.0 block throughout the five games of the titluar showdown. 

He unleashed his best game in Game Five, exploding with 32 points and nine rebounds to power the Kings’ title-clinching 82-78 win over the Tropang Giga last Wednesday night at the AUF Arena. 

While he obviously exploited the absence of Fajardo who was still recuperating from a knee injury to emerge as the most dominant big man in the bubble, the pride of Sasmuan, Pampanga again deflected the praise to his team. 

“For me, hindi ganun kadali ‘yun. I really need to work hard for it,” he said. “Credit din sa team ko talaga. Ako wala akong tine-take na credit kasi team talaga kami. ‘Yung chemistry lang talaga nagdala sa’min sa championship, all the way from eliminations and playoffs.” 

Read: Bubble title ‘most unique’ in PBA history, says Tim Cone

Looking back to the grueling, compressed league restart that lasted for more than two months, Aguilar’s biggest takeaway was to take care of his health heading to the next season which is possible to have another bubble format. 

“I wanted to be more ready beginning of the (season) kung magkakaroon ng bubble ulit. Hopefully, if everything goes to plan, mas maging healthy, mas maging ready ako at the start of the season.”