WATCHING Japeth Aguilar play against his Jordan team, veteran coach Rajko Toroman could sense the Barangay Ginebra high-flyer had something to prove to him.
“He was very motivated for this game and he wants to show me that he is improving,” said Toroman smiling after Ginebra posted a 94-85 win over Jordan's national team in a tune-up game at the CCF Gym.
Toroman and Aguilar are of course no strangers to each other, the Serbian mentor having handled the then amateur player during their time together in the original Gilas side.
Toroman himself admitted the relationship had a lot of 'controversies' and towards the end of their time together, rare where the games that the 6-9 player given extensive minutes on the floor.
“There were a lot of controversies between me and Japeth during our Gilas time. So he wants to prove (his worth) in that Gilas side. He wants to prove that he has matured and everything has improved,” he added.
At Gilas 1.0, Aguilar mostly started at power forward for Toroman until Ranidel De Ocampo and Kelly Williams came on board after the national team sought reinforcement from the PBA for the 2011 Fiba Asia Championships in Wuhan, China.
Still, Charles Tiu, Toroman's former assistant at Gilas 1.0, said any differences between the player and coach was not personal.
“Wala namang personal issues talaga between the two, it was more of a professional thing,” said Tiu. “For the longest time, naging patient kasi si coach Rajko sa kanya, he wasn’t performing up to the expectations eh.
“Pero nothing personal naman yun. Ang bait-bait ni Japeth, friends naman sila eh. Pero siguro basketball-wise, he (Aguilar) wants to show na he can be a big-time player,” he said.
But after seeing Aguilar lead Ginebra in scoring with his 20 points against his Jordan side, Toroman said he is the happiest person to see the great strides made by Aguilar in his game.
“I’m okay, I am very happy to see him play like that. I am happy that coach Tim Cone is starting to make him a better player,” he added.
“I didn’t say that he is already one of the most dominant players or he is bound to become one, I just hope that he keeps improving. If he can keep playing like that, I believe he will be good."
But careful not to raise expectations, Toroman warned Aguilar is also the type of player who can be great in one game and passive in the next.
“It’s not the first time that he played good, but he was not consistent. And after one game (Jordan tune-up), you cannot say that he already improved and that he is already another player,” said the 60-year old Serbian coach.
“You have to follow him and observe him for a longer time and then that’s the only time you can assess if he has already improved or he has matured from before, but I think coach Tim will really help him (with that)."
Asked to assess Aguilar now, Tiu said: "Much improved (and) playing with a lot of confidence. His outside shot looked better than ever - it was good since before - and improving defensively under coach Tim - which is his biggest weakness."
Listen to interview on Toroman: