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PASSING OF TORCH? Edu ready to take the spots of Fajardo, Aguilar

AJ Edu is still learning the ropes, but will be ready to embrace the challenge as heir apparent of June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar. (Photo from SBP)

AJ Edu delivered a strong performance, proving that he is ready to step up and serve as heir apparent of June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar in the Gilas Pilipinas squad that will see action in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

In his first game with the seniors squad, the 6-foot-10 Filipino-Cypriot emerged as a surprise package, helping Gilas deliver a 76-65 win over Iran Team B in the 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament late Thursday in China.

Edu displayed his prowess, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds, including a powerful two-handed slam dunk in the final 20 seconds to seal the victory in this tourney that serves as their warm up for the World Cup that the country will host from 25 August to 10 September.

Edu said he patiently waited and observed Fajardo and Aguilar during their training camps in Laguna, Estonia and Lithuania.

“I just watched and learned from June Mar and Japeth while on the sidelines during our training and tuneup games in Estonia,” said Edu, who walked into the training camp nursing an injured ankle.

“Since I won’t be able to play, it might be better to observe them closely and use those things when I get the opportunity to play.”

Edu said this is just the beginning of a process.

“The competition here (China), it’s more about learning,” Edu, who played college ball for the Toledo Rockets in the Division I of the US National Collegiate Athletic Association, said.

“Not just for me, but everybody else. The World Cup is the one that really matters. We’re going to learn here as much as we can and make sure that we’ll be ready for the World Cup.”

While Gilas are still waiting for 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto to regain his strength following a back injury that he suffered in the National Basketball Association Summer League, Edu is making his presence felt, giving Gilas coach Chot Reyes something to ponder on when he charts his final roster for the World Cup.

Aguilar said the future looks bright for Gilas with Edu terrorizing the shaded lanes.

“He’s very promising for Philippine basketball,” Aguilar, a veteran of two World Cups, said in reference to the mild-mannered Edu.

“I know he wanted to prove something, but he needs to be patient. The healthier he’ll be, the better chance that we can have him in Gilas for the World Cup.”

“AJ is very agile for his size. More than his health condition, he needs to play the role of being a sponge to ‘Kuya June Mar’ where he can learn a lot.”

Fajardo agrees, saying that he is thrilled to see what the future holds for Edu.

“Although hasn’t played in the tune up games in Europe, you can see his high potential and he showed it against Iran,” Fajardo said.

“But you could also see his desire of becoming a part of the World Cup as he hasn’t missed a practice even though he’s injured.”

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