Japeth Aguilar rallied behind Kai Sotto following his impressive performance in the Adelaide 36ers friendly duel with the Phoenix Suns at the Footprint Center in Arizona last Monday.
Aguilar, who also aimed to become the first full-blooded Filipino to play in the National Basketball Association, said seeing the 7-foot-3 Sotto sharing the floor and banging bodies with legitimate NBA players is such a proud moment.
The 20-year-okd Sotto got the chance of a lifetime when the 36ers battle the Suns as part of the NBAxNBL Preseason Series.
He held his ground against former top overall pick DeAndre Ayton and terrorized the paint against the likes of All-Stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker as well as quality players like Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Payne.
He finished with 11 points, two rebounds and two steals en route to a shocking 134-124 win for the Australian club.
“I’ve seen the highlights,” Aguilar told Daily Tribune in an interview.
“He really held his own. It was a proud moment to see him. Who would have thought he’ll be able to post up against NBA star Chris Paul or was able to guard DeAndre Ayton?”
Aguilar said what Sotto did was truly historic.
“We made history,” he said.
“It was the first team where a Filipino playing outside of the NBA beat an NBA team. It was a proud moment. People would say it’s a preseason game, but for sure, there’s that competitive spirit on the side of Phoenix to win.”
Aguilar used to be in Sotto’s shoes.
In fact, the 6-foot-9 forward also packed his bags for the United States and enrolled at Western Kentucky University in a bid to become the first Filipino to play in the NBA.
But after getting cut by the Santa Cruz Warriors in the NBA D-League, Aguilar decided to go back home and spend his professional career with Gilas Pilipinas and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, where he won six of its seven Philippine Basketball Association titles.
Aguilar said Sotto has what it takes to accomplish what he failed to do.
“They’re ahead of their time,” he said.
“And that’s really good for Philippine basketball. At their young age, we can rely on them.”