Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Japeth Aguilar returns with a bang

That last drive by Arwind Santos with Japeth Aguilar all over him.

Japeth Aguilar returns with a bang
by rick olivares game pic by nuki sabio

You can do that once. But not the next time.

That was what Japeth Aguilar thought after Petron’s Arwind Santos took a pass from Alex Cabagnot and in one motion swished a jump shot from the baseline to make it 93-92. The Blaze Boosters were now behind by a solitary point.

Following Santos’ deuce, a shockingly questionable decision by GlobalPort’s coaching staff to have Jondan Salvador receive the inbound pass, saw the latter turn the ball over with a double dribble.

The ball was placed once more in Santos’ hands and the only person that stood between him and a Petron lead was Aguilar.

When Aguilar was growing up in Pampanga, he played hoops with the older boys that included Santos. The son of former pro Peter Aguilar may have been younger but he always managed to get some playing time because of his height. In those pick up games, the older players used their experience (read: gulang) to score over Japeth. The younger jumping jack was oft faked out of his high tops drawing laughs from the crowd. After Santos swatted Aguilar’s shot one time, he pulled Japeth close and told him to keep on going and to never back down. Aguilar has never forgotten that. “My journey hasn’t been easy,” said Japeth. “But I’m never going to stop trying.”

During Aguilar’s freshman season in the UAAP with Ateneo, he remembers Santos, at the time the star forward for FEU, rejecting his shot: “That was embarrassing,” he recalled. “I’m taller and he blocked my shot.”

On FEU’s next offensive thrust, Santos drove hard. Aguilar gave chase and erased what was a sure two points. On Aguilar’s two seasons with Ateneo, he went on to have many memorable battles inside the paint with his boyhood idol but more often than not, it was Santos’ FEU teams that came away the winners.

Aguilar won a few titles with Talk ‘N Text but mostly as a bench player. He sought a release for him to be able to showcase what he can do on a regular basis. “I am aware of people who want me to fail. I don’t get it. It’s wrong to pursue a dream?” he said of the crabs and naysayers. “But once I got back here, the response here in the PBA is good. People smile and come over to wish me luck. And I need that because I know I have to prove myself.”

For much of the first quarter, Aguilar was impotent on offense. He had zero points and three rebounds. Two of his shots were blocked by Petron import Renaldo Balkman.

After GlobalPort’s import, Justin Williams was assessed a Flagrant 2 penalty for a nasty elbow on Petron’s Junmar Fajardo following a rebound play, the Batang Pier, instead of folding, held fast behind Gary David, Sol Mercado, and eventually, Aguilar.

Aguilar, who returned to the PBA after an unsuccessful bid first to join the NBA then the D-League, was nervous. “We aren’t a very tall and deep team like Petron. When Williams went out, I knew it was on me to help our team,” gulped Aguilar.

Come the third quarter, Aguilar settled down and he returned the favor by erasing a couple of Balkman’s shots and began to make his presence felt on the offensive side. “He isn’t easy to guard,” said Aguilar of the former NBA player. “He’s good. He knows how to use his body and time himself well for shots or blocks.” And like the boy with NBA dreams, he added for good measure, “He knows what it takes to play in the NBA and he’s bringing it. It’s a good learning experience for me.”

With the match reaching its terminal stage, Santos drove to the basket. In his path was Aguilar. From the perimeter where he could dribble his way in or pull up for a jumper, Santos could beat Aguilar. On a drive, the much taller Aguilar had the advantage. And Santos’ shot didn’t have the mustard on it to climb up to the rim. It was short. However, the ball went back out to Santos’ teammate, Jay Washington.

Washington knew time was running out and he tried to duplicate Petron’s last basket with a baseline j. Aguilar knew that as well and he leapt at Washington swatted the ball away.

GlobalPort held on for a massive 94-92 win in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup opener with Aguilar swishing one more free throw that set the game’s final result in stone. His final stat line of 16 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks wasn’t the greatest but when you take into consideration that had had zero points in the first quarter, it isn’t so bad. He certainly poured it on in the second half and his presence forced Petron to alter some shots.

As Aguilar got dressed he listened to teammates Mark Yee and Gary David animatedly talk about the game. As David, who poured in a game high 28 points, went out the dugout to leave for home, he smiled at Aguilar and said, “Ganyan lang. Wag ka matakot. Laban lang. Nandito naman kami para sa ‘yo.”

Aguilar nodded and fiddled around with the laces of his Air Jordans. The match’s outcome and these words from his teammates (Mark Yee and Sol Mercado also had good words) mean a lot to him.

Outside Arwind Santos addressed a few reporters. “I am happy for Japeth. Syempre kababayan ko siya. Bilang basketbolista, gusto mo rin siya magsucceed.”


I remember in Japeth Aguilar's very first game for Ateneo in one of the pre-season leagues in the 2004, he was about to get on board the Blue Eagles' team bus. Before he could enter, someone asked him for an autograph of which he seemed uncertain. He did sign it. He wasn't comfortable with it as there were other stars on that team and he was just a rookie. Some 30 minutes after that, the shuttle bus passed by the area where I live and Japeth saw me through the window, he waved and I returned the gesture.

I keenly followed his journey through the years even if it seemed to be going nowhere. When he came back from the national team and decided not to play for Air21, I broke the news about this and his decision to play with Smart Gilas. That certainly was a difficult time for him and the national team that put them at odds with the PBA. I've not had too many conversations with Japeth since because of a heavy workload. Hopefully, now I'll be able to do so.

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