SBP hands-off on Aguilar controversy

By June Navarro, Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines - The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is keeping its hands off the Japeth Aguilar-Burger King issue.

Amid calls by a Philippine Basketball Association official for the country?s ruling basketball body to clarify its stand on the latest hoop controversy, the SBP?which stands to gain the most if Aguilar insists on leaving Burger King ?said, through a source, that it will wait for a resolution of the row before releasing any statement.

?As far as I know, the SBP is not yet ready to offer a contract unless Japeth and Burger King come up with a decision on their dispute,? said the source.

?It?s really a very sensitive issue and the SBP does not want to get involved.?

No other SBP official has made any comment on the Aguilar controversy.

PBA chair Lito Alvarez, also the board representative of Burger King, said he is confused over the continued silence of the SBP, whose stand on the issue could break the impasse.

?The SBP stand, especially that of executive director Noli Eala is the key to this issue,? said Alvarez, whose team made the 6-foot-9 former Western Kentucky forward the top pick in the recent PBA Rookie Draft.

?I do not understand why the SBP is keeping quiet on this,? Alvarez told the Inquirer. ?Their silence is the one giving rise to many speculations. All they have to do is tell Japeth to honor his commitment with the PBA. Noli Eala should know that because he was once commissioner of the PBA.?

Aguilar last week announced through his agent, sports columnist-broadcaster Ronnie Nathanielsz, his decision to leave Burger King to play for the Smart Gilas national team.

The Whoppers, Alvarez said, had offered Aguilar a three-year contract worth P8.7 million on top of an assurance he would be allowed to play for Smart Gilas.

Alvarez remained hopeful Aguilar would still change his mind, even as certain members of the PBA board raised the possibility of punishing the player with stiff sanctions or a lifetime ban.

Aguilar?s case recalled a similar controversy in 2005 when Alex Cabagnot, after being picked No. 2 by Sta. Lucia Realty, returned to Hawaii with a plan to spurn the Realtors for good.

Threatened with a lifetime ban, Cabagnot changed his mind and signed up with SLR, which later dealt him to Coca-Cola.

Eala was the PBA commissioner then.

Aguilar was a personal choice of national coach Yeng Guiao as top pick for Burger King when the former US NCAA player announced he was ready to turn pro during the Powerade-Pilipinas campaign in the Jones Cup last July.

Although described by Guiao, also the Burger King coach, as the next most important big man in the PBA, Aguilar was used sparingly in the Powerade-Pilipinas stint in the Fiba Asia championship where the Nationals finished eighth.

Nathanielsz said they have yet to get in touch with the SBP to discuss a contract for Aguilar.

?We want the issue with Burger King settled first,? Nathanielsz said.

Alvarez said the controversy could have an ?impact? in the relationship of the SBP and the PBA, which he said is an ?active member? of the federation.

?We don?t want the relationship of the PBA and SBP to be strained,? added Alvarez, noting that SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan and SBP vice president Ricky Vargas are part of the PBA family.

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