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(UPDATED) - Japeth Aguilar’s dream of pursuing a career in the American professional basketball circuit stays alive for the meantime after a National Basketball Association (NBA) Developmental League team promised to draft the former Talk ‘N Text center in the upcoming D-League draft.
According to Leo Balayon, the CalTech assistant coach who is supervising Aguilar’s skills training in the United States, the six-foot-nine Aguilar attended the tryouts of the Los Angeles D-Fenders and the Santa Cruz Warriors, and gave such a good account of himself in the Warriors’ tryout that the team said they would draft him.
“Basically both teams (the D-Fenders and the Warriors) invited him to try out,” Balayon said in an e-mail to Yahoo! PH Sports. “The D-Fenders did not have a coach yet when he was invited so it was not the best situation. Someone I know in the organization had brought Japeth to the D-Fenders general managers’ attention. We really appreciated that. So after a day, Japeth got an invite to their closed invite-only tryout.”
The problem, Balayon said, was that there was a lot of excitement about Japeth and he was being compared to Kevin Durant, which may have caused some very high expectations.
“They had him play center and power forward, not the small forward, which we have been really working on. So even though Japeth played decently, there may have been unrealistic expectations."
As for the Warriors, Balayon said team officials were so interested in Aguilar that they waived the tryout fees just so he could attend. One official said that they were "immensely" interested in Aguilar.
“So to avoid having the same thing happen again,” Balayon said, “I wrote the official and essentially gave him a scouting report in Japeth. My purpose was to give them a realistic idea of Japeth's current stage of development.”
As a result, Aguilar put on a much better showing. “Japeth played really well. He was very active and aggressive. He had a couple of dunks and there was one sequence where he shot back-to-back 3s. After the tryout ended, Warriors officials told Japeth’s agent that they would draft him. They really want him and he didn't disappoint the team.”
Aguilar has two more scheduled tryouts, but Balayon said at this point the Warriors would be the best fit for him “because they really want him.”
The first D-League team that gave Aguilar a tryout, the Bakersfield Jam, are still interested in him, Balayon said, and has invited him to move to Bakersfield and train with them exclusively.
“The Bakersfield assistant coach in charge of skills training really likes Japeth,” Balayon continued. “He said Jap is a ‘heck of a player’. Japeth really wanted to just stay in Bakersfield because their skills training is pretty good. It's in harmony with how I train. I really think their skills coach is the best I’ve seen so far. He used to be with Tim Grover's Attack Athletics in Chicago. So he’s a legit skills expert.
“The biggest thing that Bakersfield offered is the conditioning training. NBA style talaga. That's something that Jap will need to make the NBA. But like I said he had already scheduled tryouts even before pa. I'm just happy that the Warriors got wind of him because we did not know anyone from that organization. Hopefully in the next few months Jap will have a great season there.”
The Warriors hope to land Aguilar in the upcoming D-League draft, which is set for the first week of November, although it's possible another team could beat them to the punch. There are currently 16 D-League teams, and it’s not yet clear where the Warriors, who were known last season as the Dakota Wizards, will land in the order of drafting.
“They (the Warriors) said they would draft him if he is still available when their turn comes in the draft,” Balayon said, quoting Aguilar's American agent. “That's good to hear because they really value him. They even think na maunahan sila. All we need to do now is wait for the draft.
“My concern right now is that if he gets drafted by a team other than the Warriors, he might not get the playing time he needs to improve and get to the NBA. I hope if a team drafts him they really intend to play him. But whichever team drafts Japeth first, he will work very hard for that team and earn his minutes. He'll do what it takes to help his team win."
If Aguilar does get drafted and signed to a contract by the Warriors or by any other D-League team, he will become the first pure Filipino to play in the NBA D-League, although a few others have played in other minor American leagues. Former PBA stars Bong Alvarez and Vince Hizon both suited up in the United States Basketball League in 2004, while ex-Philippine Basketball League guard Mark Magsumbol saw action in the American Basketball Association in 2006.
The NBA D-League, however, is considered the toughest and most prestigious minor league in the U.S. owing to its official affiliation with the NBA.