The former Hilltoppers might get the chance to catch up after the FIBA World Cup.
Once upon a time, Gilas mainstay Japeth Aguilar was the Philippines’ great NBA hope. After all, he was just a step or two away from the world’s premier hoops league after transferring in 2007 to the Western Kentucky University (WKU) Hilltoppers, a US NCAA Division 1 school that made the NCAA Tournament 23 times in its history.
That stint began auspiciously, but an injury early in the season cut short Aguilar’s stint at WKU, and he returned to the Philippines in 2008 to be part of the very first Gilas quintet.
Aguilar’s time at WKU was otherwise unremarkable—save for the fact that, along the way, he met some good friends, like Orlando Mendez-Valdez, who was among the Hilltoppers’ main men in the late 2000s. He also happened to be the Filipino big man’s roommate in his brief stint at the university, and it was a set up that allowed the two young men to forge a great friendship.
And, on Monday, the two got together for a brief reunion before Aguilar’s Gilas squad took on Mendez-Valdez’s Mexico five in a closed-door tune-up game meant to prepare both teams for the FIBA World Cup. Mendez-Valdez did not play in the tune-up match, but it did not matter—at least not to the two buddies.
“Noong nalaman ko na may tune-up kami, talagang nag-look forward na ‘ko na makita siya uli. Naging napakabait niya sa‘kin noong nasa Western Kentucky kami,” Aguilar told the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas when asked about his good friend, whom he described as a dead-eye shooter.
Then, when asked if he intends to meet up with his Hilltopper brethren once the FIBA World Cup is over, Aguilar answered in the affirmative, of course.
“Oo naman! Akala ko kasi sa Indonesia sila, 'yun pala sa MOA Arena,” said the 36-year-old high-flyer. “Sure ‘yun, magkikita pa kami.”
It is a feel-good story for both Aguilar and Mendez-Valdez, who started a friendship years ago thanks to hoops—and will now get the chance to catch up because of basketball.