Marc Pingris sees Japeth Aguilar as the new leader of the Gilas Pilipinas squad that will vie in the FIBA World Cup next year.
In a telephone conversation with Daily Tribune, Pingris said Aguilar had already blossomed from a young, athletic forward into a mature leader who is more than ready to lead the country to a strong performance in the World Cup set from 25 August to 10 September next year.
Pingris used to be the catalyst for the national squad on the defensive end.
In fact, he had been the source of inspiration as the intangibles he brought to Gilas proved to be infectious – from the two FIBA Asia tournaments, the World Cup and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
It was those times that he took a young Aguilar under his wings until he became the elder statesman and floor leader of the Gilas Pilipinas squad.
Pingris, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and a nine-time champion in the Philippine Basketball Association, said he had seen Aguilar matured through the years.
“He was like our baby during our time in Gilas,” Pingris said.
“But he has matured through the years and we can see how his level of play has improved while playing for Ginebra.”
“With the national team, I think he’s ready to embrace that new role as a leader.”
Aguilar admitted that he’s not as vocal as the other past leaders of the squad — from Jimmy Alapag, to Pingris to Gabe Norwood — but he tried to lead by example.
“That’s what I try to do now, to be a good example with the younger players,” Aguilar said.
“I’m 34 now and there’s no one here older than me.”
Aguilar has come full circle from being one of the youngest players when the national team program started in 2008 with the all-amateur Smart Gilas, to becoming the eldest player in the Gilas Pilipinas squad preparing for the World Cup.
Before, Aguilar was known to provide highlight reels with his exciting, above-the-rim plays.
But this time, Aguilar has been generating the energy on defense, similar to the role being played before by Pingris.
“He knows his role very well and he’s got good connection with Scottie Thompson, his teammate at Ginebra. They’re familiar with each other and they’ve been bringing that great chemistry at Gilas,” Pingris said.