Gilas women brace for busy schedule

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THE Gilas Pilipinas women’s team will have its hands full as it competes in two major international tournaments, including defending its title in the Hanoi 31st Southeast Asian Games.

Coach Patrick Aquino said the grind begins in mid-November in the 2022 qualifying tournament for the Fiba Women’s World Cup set from February 6 to 14. The venue has yet to be named.

Aquino’s team that just came from the Fiba Asia Cup campaign in Amman, Jordan, is completing its mandatory quarantine but will immediately meet with top officials of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) to discuss what is expected to be a busy calendar next year.

The 50-year-old national coach told the weekly online session of the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum that he already had initial talks with SBP Special Assistant to the President Ryan Gregorio.

“The SBP is very supportive in our coming tournaments. And I’m very happy to hear that. We’re just waiting and looking forward, preparing all the plans and getting all the players for the tournaments again,” said Aquino, joined in the public sports program by national stalwarts Janine Pontejos and Camille Clarin.

Right off the bat is the qualifying meet for the Women’s World Cup to be hosted by Australia from September 22 to October 1. Aquino hopes to have 6-foot-5 regular center Jack Animam back in the team, along with US-born Filipina Mai-Loni Henson, a former University of Washington Huskies standout. Animam is playing pro ball in Serbia and missed the Fiba Asia Cup.

Ella Fajardo, the rookie playmaker from Duke University, won’t be making the qualifier however, due to her commitment in the US NCAA.

But the foremost priority of the team is definitely retaining the SEA Games title in Vietnam in May after finally winning the gold for the first time during the 2019 edition of the biennial meet in Manila.

“We sacrificed a lot for that gold medal that’s why we have to do our best again to defend the crown,” Pontejos said.

“Definitely, I would love to be a part of that gold medal [team]. We have a great program going for us,” said Clarin, a national team first-timer at the Fiba Asia Cup.

Aquino said the hectic schedule would be good for team’s SEA Games title retention bid, recalling how the same routine helped the Filipinas to finally score a breakthrough gold in the regional showcase.

Aquino also said that he hopes the team will finally be allowed to play in the Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China, in September.

Winning the SEA Games, according to them, perhaps could be enough to convince Philippine sports officials to allow them to compete in the Asian Games.

“We deserve to be playing for the country in the Asian Games,” Aquino said.

The Philippines retained its spot in Fiba Asia Division A after rallying for a 74-70 win over India two weeks ago in Jordan.

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