A focused Japeth Aguilar is partly why the Ginebra Gin Kings are on a three-game winning streak. The 29-year old Sasmuan, Pampanga native has undeniably played crucial roles in all three wins of the Gin Kings. But more than his scoring, his defense, particularly on imports, has been credited as among the keys to Ginebra’s victories.
“I’m really committed now to playing defense,” said the 6’9” top PBA Draft pick in 2009. To be honest, it came as a surprise to me that Japeth is now more defensive-oriented. He was lauded for containing Denzel Bowles during Ginebra’s 92-87 conquest of Star last February 29. In the payoff period of that game, he came up with two crucial blocks against the former PBA Best Import.
We were together at the Smart Gilas National Team from 2009-2011 and the kid has always been offensive-minded. At the time, he was always conscious of his game stats, particularly in scoring. He had a scorer’s mentality that whenever he got the ball, he looked to shoot. Japeth was fresh from a two-year stint at Western Kentucky University, an NCAA Division 1 school. He was coming with a lot of promise, especially with his height and athleticism. He also worked hard at practice in honing his skills, and in many occasions, I would supervise his shooting drills.
But Japeth’s tour of duty with Smart Gilas left a lot to be desired. His playing minutes under then Gilas coach Rajko Toroman slowly dwindled and he would be riding the bench in most big games. From the National Team, Japeth joined the Talk ‘N Text (TNT) team in the PBA and saw action for 15.4 minutes per game, with norms of 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds. But his first full PBA season was forgettable as well. After a year with TNT, he moved to Global Port where his minutes surged to 25.2 per game. This resulted to a slight increase in his averages to 9.6 points and 6.2 boards per game.
Now on his sixth season in the PBA, it looks like Japeth’s true potential has finally arrived. Last conference, his numbers leaped to 17.7 markers, 10.7 boards and 1.2 blocks per game in 33.5 minutes of play per game. His percentages were likewise remarkable with a total field goal rate of 51.8% and a magnificent 50% shooting from behind the arc. In the present import-laden conference, Japeth’s numbers continue to rise. After five games, he averaged 12.8 points per game (PPG), 5.4 rebounds per game (RPG), 1.6 assists per game (APG), and 1.2 blocks per game (BPG). He is now maturing at the right time and Ginebra’s fans couldn’t be happier.
Speaking of Ginebra, after dropping its first two assignments, the Gin Kings have racked up three straight wins, versus Rain Or Shine, Star and Mahindra. Under the tutelage of the multi-titled Tim Cone, it looks like the country’s most popular ball club is starting to play beautiful music together. Aside from Japeth, the other Gin Kings have also stepped up their games. Greg Slaughter, also a former Smart Gilas member, leads the locals with 15.5 PPG and 10.75 RPG, while Joe Devance, Sol Mercado and LA Tenorio are all contributing at least eight points per game.
But Ginebra’s brightest star so far has been import Othyus Jeffers, whom many say is the second coming of long-time PBA import Sean Chambers. The shortest import in the current conference, Jeffers plays like a giant for the Gin Kings, amassing sterling numbers of 24.8 PPG, 16.8 RPG, and 4.8 APG.
“Othyus is a great teammate. He knows the Triangle very well. This is why we’re very comfortable playing with him,” relates Japeth.
Ginebra’s last PBA title was way back in the 2008 Fiesta Cup. After several coaching changes, the 36-year old franchise is now banking on Cone’s winning tradition to finally end the eight-year title drought. And Japeth has full trust in his mentor. “Learning the Triangle is a process. But we have improved since last conference. Coach Tim is patient. He is a great teacher of the game. I admire his system and philosophy. This is why I believe we will go deep into the playoffs this conference. ”