Ex-Gilas skipper Japeth Aguilar returns to national duty

Japeth Aguilar during a Gilas Pilipinas stint. –FIBA PHOTO

Japeth Aguilar during a Gilas Pilipinas stint. –FIBA PHOTO

Japeth Aguilar, a pioneering member of the Gilas Pilipinas program and skipper of the last two major editions of the National Five, will be backstopping the new-look squad that plays in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup Qualifiers next week.

The high-leaping forward, who recently turned 37 years old, will be a stopgap measure for AJ Edu who is still recuperating from a meniscus tear.

“Japeth will replace AJ in the lineup for the first window, but we expect AJ to play in the second,” national coach Tim Cone told the Inquirer on Saturday.

Aguilar who captained the team sent to the World Cup in Manila and the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, has been practicing with the squad at Inspire Sports Academy in Laguna. Joining the grizzled big man are his Barangay Ginebra teammates Ralph Cu, Donald Gumaru, and longtime Cone guy and another Gilas veteran in LA Tenorio.

Edu is also in the National University’s exclusive training facility and will join the contingent when it flies to Hong Kong on Feb. 20, two days before it battles the host nation at Tsuen Wan Sports Centre.

“We’re putting in the basics of our system. We want to start with a strong foundation and the response of the players has been great,” Cone said of the short camp which wraps up this Sunday.

“We have yet to give much thought to Hong Kong and Taiwan. We’re focused more on what we do. Our scouting will start in a couple of days,” he went on.

The Nationals are scheduled to open its practices to the fans on Monday, Feb. 19, 6 p.m. at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City following an interview session with the press.

Gilas is also scheduled to play Chinese-Taipei on Feb. 25 at the same venue.

The Philippines is highly favored in these first two games of the qualifying tournament with naturalized ace Justin Brownlee leading nearly half of the Asian Games champion team and young standouts from the World Cup squad.

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The pair of games also heralds the national program’s trek back to the Fiba World Cup in Qatar which also serves as a qualification pathway to the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.