JAPETH Aguilar admits the loss of Greg Slaughter in the middle for Gilas is a major blow in the national team’s campaign in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) here in Manila.
But at the same time, he believes the remaining big men for the Philippine quintet are up to the task and will be highly inspired to play in front of their basketball-loving countrymen.
“Ready naman kaming lahat mag-step up,” said Aguilar as Gilas took a break from practice on Tuesday as the team had to apply for visas at the Greece embassy for its coming nine-day camp in the Hellenic Republic.
“All the guys are working hard and motivated for the OQT.”
Slaughter had to beg off from suiting up for the national team in the July 5-10 meet owing to an ankle injury that required surgery. He successfully went under the knife last week.
Although the absence of his Ginebra frontcourt partner is a big loss, the former Western Kentucky player said Gilas can expect a boost from an expected partisan crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The 29-year-old native of Sasmuan, Pampanga cherished how Gilas – even with an undersized roster – played its hearts out in front of thousands at the same Pasay City venue during the 2013 Fiba-Asia men’s championship when the national team finished a strong runner-up behind Iran to earn a berth in the Fiba World Cup in Spain the following year.
“Fresh pa sa memories ko yung nangyari the last time,” recalled the son of former PBA player Peter Aguilar. “Iba talaga yung naglalaro ka in front of your countrymen. Kaya I’m looking forward again to this Olympic qualifier campaign.’
As for Slaughter, he could only wished his Ginebra teammate well.
“Yung mawalan ang team ng isang big guy, malaking kawalan talaga yun, dahil alam naman natin sa international competition, malalaki ang mga kalaban natin,” said the soft-spoken power forward. “Greg has been playing well the past two conferences. Sayang yung opportunity na madala niya ‘yung talent niya sa Gilas.”
“On a positive note, it’s for his career. Baka lumala pa yung injury niya kasi, mas mainam na yung maagapan na,” he stressed. “Kung ano sa tingin niya yung makakabuti sa kanya, I’ll support him (all the way).”
Ginebra is set to start practicing again on June 2 for the season-ending PBA Governors Cup. But since he’s occupied with the Gilas training together with teammate LA Tenorio, coach Tim Cone has permitted the two to just show up in team practice once their job with the national team is over.
Although they would not be joining the Kings in practice, Aguilar and Tenorio vows to show up in training camp from time to time.
“Bibisita pa rin ako, si LA sa practice,” said the former Ateneo big man.