The Men’s FIBA Asia Cup scheduled in Jakarta was canceled owing to the spiraling Covid cases throughout Indonesia. The FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, however, will push through, with all systems go for the upcoming tournament scheduled at Amman, Jordan, from September 27 to October 3.
The Philippines, ranked 7th in Asia and 51st in the world, will participate in the upcoming event. They have a tough task, owing to the absence of key players as well as being grouped with others that are considered to be powerhouses in the region.
Now, your Gilas Pilipinas Women!
The most notable absence in the line-up is that of Jack Animam. The NU standout recently signed a contract with the ZKK Radnicki Kragujevac, a professional basketball team in Serbia. Animam’s absence will leave a gaping hole in the middle for the Gilas women that are already lacking in height and ceiling, to begin with.
Gilas will also be without its top prospect Mai-Loni Henson, who failed to process his papers and necessary documents on time. Henson is a US-born 6-1 Filipina who played for the University of Washington Huskies and could have bolstered the lineup with her defense and perimeter play.
Gilas Women will have neither of them on September 27, along with Danica Jose and Kellie Hayes. but coach Patrick Aquino is confident that the team can compete.
Aquino will still have Afril Bernardino, who led Gilas in scoring in FIBA tournaments and the Women’s Asia Cup, in the past years. Janine Pontejos, the CEU hotshot who won the FIBA 3×3 World Cup shootout in 2018, will also be back.
Reinforcing the lineup are Andrea Tongco of National University, Khate Castillo of De La Salle University, and France Cabinbin of the Lyceum of the Philippines University.
The young and the restless
The SBP decided to infuse new blood in the lineup, tapping Ella Fajardo, Kristine Cayabyab, Camille Clarin, and Karl Ann Pingol into the team. Fajardo is an incoming playmaking recruit of Fairleigh Dickinson University, an NCAA Division I school. Clarin and Pingol, meanwhile, are part of the NU Lady Bulldogs’s squad that captured its sixth straight title in 2019.
Rounding up the roster are super scorer Nathaly Prado of Adamson University, SEA Games gold medalist Clare Castro of Far Eastern University, and Philippine Navy’s own and former National University standout Ria Nabalan.
Aquino hopes that the new players will immediately make their presence felt, especially with several veterans out of the roster. He is banking on a combination of youth and enthusiasm as well as the experience of several key players such as Bernardino and Pontejos, to make the team competitive enough, and have at least a decent, respectable finish at Amman.
So much for luck of the draw
Aquino may be enthusiastic, but the odds are stacked against the Gilas Pilipinas Women. They are stuck in the group which includes China and Australia, established basketball powerhouse in the region, and ranked no.7 and no.3 in the world respectively.
The Chinese squad is bolstered by two centers, 6’7 Yueru Li and 6’9 Xu Han, while Australia has Lauren Sherf, Darcee Garbin, and Zitina Aokuso to patrol the shaded lane. It will be a tall order to beat the two, and Aquino and the Gilas basketbelles will have their hands full against their opponents, especially with Animam not in the lineup.
Odds may be better against the Chinese-Taipei, currently ranked no.34 in the world, but the Philippines was given a rough beating by the squad the last time they met, 53-87, nearly four years ago. We certainly hope that the outcome will be different this time.
Unfazed in the land of the giants
With a combined average height of 5’6, the team is severely undersized compared to its opponents. Cayabyab (5’10) and Castro (6’5), the tallest in the team, will have their hands full against a tall Chinese and Australian frontline. Even if they match up well, the two teams have depth in that position, which could give Gilas Women a hard time in the middle, on both ends of the court.
Youth is also a factor, for better or worse. Aquino is banking on the enthusiasm of the new recruits who will don the national jerseys for the first time. He is hoping that youth and the energy that comes with it will overcome their lack of experience. But they are under tremendous pressure to perform well, under the bright lights of Amman. The new recruits have big shoes to fill, and they are expected to mature quickly and contribute immediately to the campaign.
Just like their counterparts in men’s basketball, the performance of new recruits might determine whether the team will have a fruitful campaign in FIBA Women’s Asia Cup. A good showing by the new recruits might result, though not necessarily in victory, but a respectable performance for our squad. Considering that we are up not only against the region but also the world’s best, it is better that we temper our expectations.
Keys to victory
The team will probably have to rely on Bernardino’s skills and talent as they sail against the rough waters in Group B. One of the mainstays of the squad for some time, an A-game from her is almost a must given the odds that they have.
The cagebelles have capable guards who can shoot. Pontejos is a known deadshot, and it is important that Aquino utilizes her sniping to the hilt. The quickness at the guard rotation may well compensate for the lack of height and ceiling, something which the coaching staff has to look at.
In basketball, the team is more than the sum of its parts. Lacking in height, a good team defense anchored by on-ball pressure, constant defensive player movement, and clogging of passing lines may be the best option for the team. With height, and probably athleticism on the side of the opponents, Aquino must utilize every trick in his book to maximize whatever little advantage that we have against them..