Facing tall odds in Olympic qualifier, Gilas women out to protect top-flight status – rezal404

Jack Animam (No. 75) will anchor the squad that will compete in Sydney.

Jack Animam (No. 75) will anchor the squad that will compete in Sydney. —DENISON REY A. DALUPANG

Just before dismissing his charges, Gilas Pilipinas women’s head coach Patrick Aquino called for a huddle.

It wasn’t the usual kind where he heaps praises on a player and then offers points of improvement for another. In this one, on a hot, steamy Monday afternoon at Aero Center basketball gym in Quezon City, he reached for reminders.

“I was telling them how hard it was going out of a certain level,” he told the Inquirer.

“We don’t want to be in that situation again where we had to start from [Division B] again. It was so hard getting up to [this level]. You had to go through so many games and be at the top of a division and then fight out again to [stay there].”

Gilas Pilipinas is set to play in Division A of the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Women’s Asia Cup next month in Sydney, Australia, where it battles the continent’s finest teams for one of the four spots in the Paris Olympic Games.

But if the team’s recent outing in the Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia was some sort of an indication, the Philippines could be facing tall odds in the tournament which gets going June 26.

perilous road

Gilas’ lone loss in the biennial meet was against eventual champion Indonesia, which doesn’t even play in Fiba’s top division.

Making the Philippines’ group phase route even more perilous is a litter of heavyweights: six-time winner and defending champion Japan, a perennial podium finisher Chinese-Taipei and global power Australia.

“I asked them to remember the times when we fought hard [to get to Division A] because that’s the only attitude we’ll need. ‘To get better. Get even better.” Aquino said, referring to the Philippines’ top-flight status it earned eight years ago.

Gilas has to play to show that it belongs, according to the concurrent program director. Especially now with second-tier teams now becoming even better.

“We’ve been there for such a long time already and I think we have to be at the same level as the teams competing there. We need to be up there,” Aquino said.

“I don’t want us getting mixed up with Indonesia and all those other teams. Like Jordan, who has a WNBA player. Kazakhstan, which has always been tall. Malaysia which has always been [lurking]. Then there’s also Thailand raring to come back.”

Two-a-day sessions

The Gilas brain trust plans to use the same roster it used in Phnom Penh, but it intends to make some tweaks to accommodate Duke starter Vanessa de Jesus, who recently became eligible to serve as a naturalized player.

Also set to banner the squad is Jack Danielle Animam, who told the Inquirer she is committed to playing for Gilas until the Asian Games in China this September before getting back on her quest to crack the WNBA.

Gilas will continue training and polishing his game at Aero before cranking things up with twice-a-day sessions until they fly out for Sydney.

“All the things we ought to do in Cambodia, we need to do a lot more [now],” said Aquino.

“We are not going there to just hang around and try to win, hopefully, in the last game,” he added. “We need to be prepared.”

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