By Jeremy McDonald
JEFFERSON, Ore.– Jefferson’s Danny Aguilar was familiar with the members of the Lions Boys Basketball team by the time he entered his freshman year. Having good chemistry with most of the players as Jefferson was looking to build off their 9-14 season the year before.
The then incoming-freshman was in attendance a lot the year before as an eighth-grader, soaking in as much as he could before he took a High School minute.
“I was at every single game that year before I came in and tried to soak up as much as I could from the bleachers, watching I knew I could come in and make a difference, but I knew I had to earn my spot and coming in starting at point guard comes with some pressure,” said Aguilar. “I knew I wanted to come in and establish a leadership role, and as a freshman that isn’t easy when you have a lot of older starters returning. Getting the chance to play with all those guys was an amazing experience.
“Playing with them prior definitely benefited me playing with everyone when I came into high school because we already knew each other’s games, I had played with Jayden Eriksen, Diego (Rodriguez), and Leon (Romo) the most during those years before.”
The Lions 9-14 season was a far cry from their 1-63 record they had the three years before as they laid the foundation entering Aguilar’s freshman year.
And did they take the PacWest Conference by storm their final year in 3A. They used the prior chemistry together to upset Salem Academy for the first time in a decade, stealing the regular season sweep of Salem Academy in the regular season as they finished third in the PacWest. Jefferson came within a possession against the Crusaders to play Blanchet Catholic for the number-one seed for the postseason.
“We knew each other’s games and still do very well and over the years have grown into a pretty tough combo. All of us playing in many tournaments allowed us to play better competition and elevated all of ours games,” said Aguilar. “Beating Salem Academy for the first time in over a decade was definitely a big thing for our school. That playoff game against Salem Academy was our first taste of the playoffs, and we knew it would not be easy to beat a team three times in a row. Overcoming those things at the end of that year definitely established I think another level of toughness amongst us all.”
Besides going toe-to-toe with a State Contender like Salem Academy was big, but as a frosh Aguilar drew the assignment to guard current Western Oregon University guard RJ Veliz. Veliz, a Junior with the Cavs at the time, presented a fun challenge for the young Lions guard looking for the challenge.
“I knew he would be challenging to defend, but playing defense has always been my thing and so I look forward to those challenges,” said Aguilar. “He was definitely a tough match up because of how crafty he is and he was the reigning league MVP, so a freshman point guard coming in and matching up with him was definitely good for me.
“It prepared me for other tough matchups, that I’ve had down the road. That RJ match up I definitely put a lot of focus into. He’s a great player and a great guy though getting to know him later on. (It) was a good growing experience for me for sure as a freshman.”
Aguilar’s attitude and work ethic are things he rests his hat on. Making improvements around his game and continues to do that. But the Jefferson senior knows too he could throw up 30 shots a game and it could be for nothing if he doesn’t have his team around him to help him.
Focusing instead on team first and personal accolades second Aguilar points, making reference to what father and second-year Head Coach Danny Aguilar has said of ‘WE over ME’.
“All around I’ve made improvements in my game and continue to do that, but I’ve always been someone who likes to focus on what our team is doing and what the next obstacle is. I could be the scorer in a game, or just do my job defensively, or just run the offense,” said Aguilar. “If I had to sit on the bench, all I ever cared about was winning and making sure my guys are good. That’s all that’s on my mind when I’m working on my game.
“Sometimes that may hurt my own personal game when it comes to scouts and things like that because I’m not the guy who throws up 30 shots a game and I am not 6 foot 6. I’m the guy who is doing everything I can whatever it may be to win the game and I don’t care if that means I only score two points.”
Out of the PacWest Conference from Aguilar’s freshman year, Jefferson joined Chemawa, Gervais and Colton in dropping to the 2A level. But as the Braves, Cougars and Vikings joined the Tri-River Conference with Santiam and Kennedy, the Lions joined the Central Valley Conference with Oakland.
Building off of their 15-11 season in their final 3A season during the 2017-2018 season to making the 2A postseason in 2018-2019 as the third-place team in the CVC. Falling to eventual State Champions in Western Christian in the 2A opening round.
An 18-7 season followed this past season with a second-place finish behind Oakland, reaching the 2A postseason once more. Establishing that ‘WE over ME’ mentality in the small community in between Salem and Albany.
“I think the program has continued to grow each year since I was a freshman, the atmosphere and tone was I think the biggest change. We have a winning program and I think have set the stage for the younger kids coming up in a small community that’s a big deal,” Aguilar said. “You see all those younger kids sitting in the bleachers watching you and you want to show them how to represent not just the school but the entire town.
“The team adapted as my dad likes to say a WE over ME mentality and in doing so changed the program I think completely.”
The Aguilar boys were all together last season when the elder Danny took over the program from Nate Neuschwander and Diego Aguilar coming into the program as a freshman. Cousin Christian Aguilar has been with the program as well, being in the same grade as the twelfth-grade Danny Aguilar has made it fun.
“I know some people don’t get that with their fathers and so I don’t take it for granted. Growing up he had a pretty big reputation as being an extremely talented athlete and so that is something I always wanted to chase,” said Aguilar. “My brother coming in and playing with me has been awesome, I’ve played more with him than anyone else in my life, all day and late into the night getting to play 1-on-1 with him was always good even if half the time it ended in a fight having him alongside me now in high school is like a dream come true growing up playing with him so much.
“Then having my cousin Christian move out into town and join the program was also great for us. I think having family close is always a good thing, it’s also nice when you hear them announce starters and you hear Aguilar multiple times. We represent our last name well.”
Aguilar takes pride in playing for Jefferson, wouldn’t trade it for anything else. It’s something that drives him in not wanting to let the community down. Wanting people to see him and know he gave it his all and was always there for his teammate, stepping up as a leader of the program moving into the latter years of his prep career with the hopes of one more ride with his friends and family in the purple and white this May.
“It’s been huge. I think for myself moving more and more as a leader in the program. I’ve always been someone who is vocal as a leader and I have just always been in that role and I understand the great responsibility that comes with it,” said Aguilar. “When there are people who look at you as a leader of the program you know you have to be unselfish and you need to be a role model.
“We are ready to send one last message to the league and make sure the stage is set for the next crew that is coming in and will take over the program.”