Japeth Aguilar used to be content with providing highlight reels with his spectacular slam dunks.
But Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes believes the 6-9 big man now holds a special role in the national team, one that is reserved for somebody who provides solid leadership on and off the court.
“There was a time that he was (young prospect) Mason Amos. Look at the value of Japeth to this program. Not only with what he does on the court, but also lately, he’s been taking on a very active leadership role and he’s taking it very, very seriously. I’m very proud and very happy about Japeth really stepping up to become a leader,” said Reyes.
Now 36 years old, the 6-foot-9 athletic big man remains serviceable for the national team program.
He started as a promising amateur player in 2008, being a part of the first wave of the all-amateur Smart Gilas team handled by Rajko Toroman.
Since becoming a member of the national team, Aguilar has been called on to suit up for flag and country over the last 15 years.
From the lanky guy whose happiness stemmed from his knack for showing off his aerial acrobatics, Aguilar has matured and blossomed into one the biggest stars in the PBA today, a fellow who boasts of eight titles under his belt, one with TNT and seven with Barangay Ginebra.
Proof that Aguilar’s game has entered a new phase is his emergence in the ongoing PBA All-Star polls as the top vote-getter with 190,273.
Previously, Aguilar was even voted by his Gilas teammates as team captain of the squad in the fifth window.
“He had taken that captain’s leadership role in this team,” Reyes said.
“In the last window, the players voted him as team captain. He really takes it very seriously, he talks with the players, he does a lot of things, behind the scene, doing a lot of leader things for the squad.”
Aguilar has missed Ginebra’s previous game due to a knee injury and is likely going to sit out the Gilas practice when it resumes on Monday, but the veteran player will be there to observe the team’s preparation.
Barely two weeks before the start of the sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Asan Qualifiers, Aguilar still has time to rest his banged-up knee and get himself ready for the coming big event where the Philippines plays Lebanon on 24 February and Jordan on 27 February at the Philippine Arena.