Japeth Aguilar trained to play center alongside Andray Blatche in agile Gilas frontline
Used to being a power forward lurking at mid-range for Ginebra, Japeth Aguilar has slid to the 5-spot, spending most of his time down low during recent national team scrimmages. Jaime Campos  

JAPETH Aguilar will likely find himself in a relatively new role for Gilas Pilipinas as a center if he is to make the final cut for the team vying for top honors in the Olympic Qualifying Touranment next month.

Used to being a power forward lurking at mid-range for Ginebra, the 6-foot-9 beanpole has slid to the 5-spot, spending most of his time down low during recent national team scrimmages.

And Aguilar is relishing his new task, eager to complement Andray Blatche, a power forward who thrives at the perimeter.

“Okay lang naman ako sa spot na yun,” the Ginebra star said after practice on Monday. “Yung strength ni Andray talaga sa labas, pero kaya niya rin naman maglaro sa loob, kaya nag-uusap na lang kami sa pag nasa loob.”

Aguilar is just trying to be good soldier to coach Tab Baldwin.

“Preferably mas gusto niya (Baldwin) si Andray sa labas kasi nagkakaroon ng mismatch,” the 29-year-old cager said of the NBA veteran. “Maganda rin ball handling skill niya kaya talagang makakapag-create ng mismatch.”

[See Baldwin faces tough decisions s Gilas trims lineup to 14 before European swing]

Aguilar implied he’s comfortable being the man in the middle, owing to Baldwin’s offense.

“Ang kagandahan ng system ni coach Tab, kahit na sa five-spot ako, pwede ko pa rin gawin kung ano ang laro ko,” the former NBA D-League draftee said. “Tulad ng sinabi ko, ‘pag nasa loob ng game kami, kailangan lang may communication kami ni Dray.”

While he will play center on offense in his tandem with Gilas’ naturalized player, Aguilar, arguably the most athletic in the pool, goes back to the 4-spot on defense.

“Kapag defense, si Dray ang kukuha sa malalaking players tapos ako yung kukuha sa kwatro,” Aguilar said. “Pag offense, ako mag-i-initiate sa loob, tapos siya sa labas.”

“Gusto niya (Baldwin) gawin yung role ko which is to have my teammates open, set up ko sa kanila, maganda ibigay kong screen, crash the boards, tumulong sa defense at mga hustle plays,” he added.

In short: the ultimate utility man among the Filipino dribblers, a perfect complement for Blatche, which could earn Aguilar a starting spot.

“I’ll take it to a point na mag-improve rin ako,” he said. “Yun nga, kailangan ready ako sa magiging challenges ni coach Tab.”

Whether the Aguilar-Blatche combo can work will be known starting with a pair of tune-up games against Iran on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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“Malaking test namin pag makakaharap na namin yung ibang international players,” Aguilar said. “Doon ko mage-gauge talaga kung paano ang magiging laro ko.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos