Aguilar survives first cut in D-League try out

The NBA D-League dream of Japeth Aguilar stayed alive over the weekend after the six-foot-nine big man made it through the first wave of tryouts of the D-League team Bakersfield Jam.

According to an article by Joseph Pimentel in the Filipino-American community newspaper Asian Journal which was also featured in a video on the local cable channel ANC,  Aguilar was among 20 hopefuls who survived the open try out conducted by the Jam at East Los Angeles College which attracted over 80 players, most of whom came from NCAA Division 1 Pac-12 schools.

Aguilar, according to the report, scored 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting, and added five rebounds and four blocks in a scrimmage. His performance earned him a spot in the "All-Star scrimmage", which will bring together the best players of that particular try out, as well as soft praise from the Jam coaches.

Jam head coach Will Voigt, quoted by Pimentel, called Japeth “an intriguing player” who has length and athleticism. Voigt sees Aguilar as a possible small forward, in contrast to the positions he played in the PBA and Smart Gilas 1. “He’s been playing as a four or a five (power forward / center) in the Philippines we’ll have to transition him into a three (small forward),” Voigt told Pimentel. “It’s going to be a process for him. But he’s shown flashes throughout the weekend that makes you want to see more.

“I thought his athleticism really stood out. He didn’t really shoot the ball as well as he has in the past. But his size and length, the way he moves, I think he just made a lot of plays just based on that.”

Jam assistant coach John Bryant echoed Voigt’s observations about the length and athleticism, but at the same time said Aguilar had to address the one thing that critics back home have repeatedly said about him.

“I think right now he’s a little too passive,” Bryant said, quoted by Pimentel. “He has to be the man. He has to be able to knock down that corner three [pointer] consistently and if that corner three is not working, then a one or two dribble pull up and shoot…I want to see him throw an elbow or something. Get out of his shell a little and play loose. [Then] I think he’ll really be something special.”

The coaches also said Aguilar, a former PBA no. 1 draft pick by Burger King, has to work on his ball-handling and outside shooting and needs to be more aggressive, while on defense he needs to learn how to guard small forwards. Bryant told Pimentel that Aguilar was a “raw talent” and that he “needs to bring all his skills” every day.

But before Filipino fans get excited, this particular try out was just one of four that the Jam will be conducting as they search for players to beef up their roster for the coming D-League season. The team will probably look at 400 or 500 players throughout the entire process. Last year, Byrant told Pimentel, four players on the Jam roster came from the try outs, of which two made it through the entire season.

In other words, the odds are still stacked against Aguilar. But the 25-year-old, whose contract with Talk ‘N Text expired recently, remains undeterred as he continues to pursue his dream of becoming the first full-blooded Filipino player of making it to the NBA.

“I can’t live without trying,” Aguilar said when interviewed by Pimentel. “I’m very determined to improve every day. I’m doing workouts everyday and spending a lot of time in the gym doing everything I can improve on.”

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