Smart Gilas big man Japeth Aguilar said the third time's the charm at the 27th Fiba-Asia men’s championship as the tough challenges he faced were made easier by the huge cheering crowds, the strong team camaraderie and the all-out support from management and coaching staff.
The 6-9 Aguilar said the opposition in the Fiba-Asia showpiece was tough especially in the gold medal game where he had to defend Iranian man-mountain Hamed Hadadi during his 17-minute stint due to the absence of injured naturalized center Marcus Douthit.
“Kailangan kong i-contain si Hadadi pero talagang nagkulang din. Di naman ako na-intimidate. Siyempre, kailangan talaga lumaban dahil nandito na rin eh. Malaki lang talaga siya,” the 26- year old big man told Spin.ph while proudly clutching his Fiba- Asian basketball silver medal.
Hadadi was a monster in the championship game where he finished with a tournament-best 29 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks. The 7-2" center went on to earn his third tournament MVP trophy, which he previously earned in 2007 and 2009, in leading Iran to an undefeated record en route to the title.
Meantime, the athletic swingman said the nationals would not have gotten this far without the nearly 20,000 cheering fans at the Mall of Asian Arena backing them up in every game of the 10-day tournament.
“Malayo inabot namin siyempre, we ended up second place. Saka yung pinaka-masarap na experience ko ito individually sa Fiba-Asia because I’m very honored (to play in Manila.) Di lang kasi para sa sarili mo yung paglalaro, pero para sa buong Pilipinas yung pinaglalaban mo,” added the 26-year-old former Western Kentucky Hilltopper, who finished the gold medal game with four points, four rebounds and a steal.
Aguilar said after the high of the Fiba-Asia tourney, he intends to take a few days off before shifting his focus to his return to the PBA, where he’ll be adjusting to a new playing environment with Barangay Ginebra.
“Maybe two days off, kailangan ko maglaro kasi (with Ginebra). I’m just new to this team,” he said.