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Gilas duty thrills Fajardo, Aguilar

As long as I’m healthy and they will call my name, I’ll be there.

Veterans June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer and Japeth Aguilar of Barangay Ginebra expressed willingness to play for Gilas Pilipinas — anytime, anywhere.

Fajardo, the six-time Philippine Basketball Association Most Valuable Player, said he will be ready for national duty if and when the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas taps him to be part of the pool that will see action in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

The 6-foot-10 Fajardo had seen his career skyrocket when he joined Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA Asia Men’s Championship that the country hosted in 2013.

When the Philippines made its way back to the World Cup five years later, Fajardo was once again included, giving him a chance to bang bodies with Serbian big men Boban Marjanovic and Nikola Jokic in the group stages.

It’s been 10 years since he first represented the country but Fajardo asserted that he has no plan to slow down.

“As long as I’m healthy and they will call my name, I’ll be there,” Fajardo told Daily Tribune in a conversation.

Aguilar had served the national team even longer.

Once the youngest in the national team program, the 6-foot-9 forward had gone full circle as he is now the eldest in the current Gilas team that has started its buildup for the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in November.

Aguilar was among the key members of the all-amateur Smart Gilas team in 2008 composed of future PBA stars Chris Tiu, Marcio Lassiter, Mark Barroca and JV Casio under Serbian coach Rajko Toroman.

Now, Aguilar is still around as he provides wisdom and veteran presence for the young squad.

“It feels good when you represent the Philippines,” Aguilar said.

“Reflecting on the times I’ve played for Gilas, I’m now the oldest player here. I’m 35 years old. After me, I think it’s (naturalized candidate) Justin Brownlee, who is 33.”

Aguilar said he is now embracing this new role and wants to apply the things he learned from Gilas players before him like Ranidel de Ocampo and Marc Pingris.

“I had to remind myself that I’m the oldest and I need to set a good example for these young guys, just like what the previous Gilas members did for us,” he said.

“I have high respect for those guys who were ahead of me.”

Fajardo and Aguilar said they like the composition of the team — a mixture of young and old — and the good program that has players like Brownlee and Cameron Oliver of TNT Tropang Giga being lined up for naturalization to back up National Basketball Association star Jordan Clarkson.

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