To keep Gilas program fluid, Aquino combs the States for talents
The disruption brought about by the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into the Philippines’ national basketball program for women, which came into last year looking to top what had been a banner season capped by a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games. But program director and head coach Patrick Aquino is not letting that stagnation carry over into 2021.
Aquino is currently traveling all over the United States, forging relationships with athletes and coaches with Filipino heritage with the aim of strengthening the Gilas program for years to come.
He is currently being assisted by Fil-Am Nation Select, a private organization led by Cris Gopez, cousin of San Miguel Beer star Alex Cabagnot.
“When we won the gold during the Southeast Asian Games [in 2019], I thought the year is going to be great for [women’s basketball]. But that was before the pandemic,” Aquino said over the weekend.
Aquino told the Inquirer in March that there were at least three international tournaments—two of which were major Fiba (International Basketball Federation) events—that the nationals were scheduled to compete in. On top of that, the national federation was working on establishing a “commercial league” to help grow the women’s game.
“If I didn’t move here, we’d slow down again. We’d be doing nothing,” Aquino said.
Tournaments have been scarce for the athletes here in the Philippines, owing to tedious health restrictions required by the national government. That setup has come down harder on female athletes.So far, Aquino said he has been locating talents who could help take the national program to the next level—among them Vanessa de Jesus, a freshman who is starting for Duke University; and Kayla Padilla, a sophomore for University of Pennsylvania, among others.
“It has been very fruitful [thus far]. I’m elated [about] the things that are happening here. I’ve been meeting a lot of people, along with future national team players,” Aquino said.
Aquino even had the help of Philippine Basketball Association greats, former import Sean Chambers, and even Yves Dignadice whose 12-year-old daughter showed up in one of the tryouts.
The Gilas mentor went to Los Angeles earlier this month. He made a stop in New York and is currently in transit to Washington, DC. He is also due for a visit to Chicago.
“[This] opens up the line, not just now but the future of women’s basketball back home,” said Aquino, who is a believer that a mix of Fil-foreign and homegrown talents is the way to go for Gilas moving forward.“It’s a good problem,” he said. “[It will be] good to mix them up.” INQ