JAPETH Aguilar and June Mar Fajardo will have big shoes to fill if a last-ditch appeal for naturalized player Andray Blatch to be included in Gilas Pilipinas’ lineup to the Asian Games fails to pan out.
The 6-foot-9 Aguilar and 6-foot-10 Fajardo will have to hold the fort if organizers thumb down Blatche’s inclusion in Gilas’ final roster, although another option by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) is to replace Blatche with original naturalized player Marcus Douthit.
Nonetheless, Aguilar expressed readiness to take a bigger role in a team that is seeking to win the Philippines' first Asiad basketball gold medal since 1962.
“It’s (Blatche absence) big shoes to fill, pero I think we can compensate in other aspects. Ganun naman lagi sa adjustment, and si coach (Chot Reyes) na ang bahala dun,” Aguilar told Spin.ph after arriving on Tuesday from Gilas Pilipinas’ campaign in the Fiba World Cup held in Seville, Spain.
The former Western Kentucky Hilltopper said the national team’s recent experience in the world championship will come as a big confidence boost for Gilas heading to the Asiad basketball wars kicking off on September 20.
“Dadalhin na lang namin 'yung momentum namin coming out of that last game (in the Fiba World Cup). And as long as we do our job well, I think wala kaming dapat ikatakot (in the Asian Games),” he added.
On Monday, the SBP received an official communication from Olympic Council of Asia, reiterating its stand that Blatche cannot play in the quadrennial meet after being barred by the Iagoc (Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee) on residency grounds.
The Iagoc cited a contentious OCA rule that requires naturalized players to be a three-year resident of the country they would be representing.
SBP vice chairman Ricky Vargas said the letter from Haider Farman, director of the Asian Games Department of the OCA, seemed final, though the national federation is still sending a small delegation to Incheon, South Korea led by Moying Martelino, in a last-ditch effort to appeal the case of Blatche.
The shot-blocking Aguilar registered averages of 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 8.0 minutes as a back-up forward in the world championships.
On the other hand, Fajardo finally showed his potential in the international arena after averaging 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13 minutes per game as chief back-up to Blatche.
Fajardo likewise saved his best for last when he finished with 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Gilas’ pulsating 81-79 overtime victory over Senegal at the close of the Filipinos’ group stage campaign.