Gilas women see brighter future after breakthrough win; men’s team remains positive after loss to Estonia
Jack Animam believes something bigger is on the horizon for Gilas Pilipinas.
“I think this is just the start of greater things for this program,” Animam said on Wednesday after she, Vanessa de Jesus and Afril Bernardino spearheaded a shock 92-81 victory over Chinese-Taipei that sent the Filipino women to the knockout phase of the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Women’s Asia Cup in Sydney, Australia.
“I think it’s time [to prove] that we belong in [Division A of the] Fiba Asia Cup,” said coach Pat Aquino. “I hope that this is not the last win for us in pool play, and that there’ll be more to come. I’m just happy with what the players did. They never give up, they started strong and everybody contributed.”
The Gilas men’s team suffered a setback, dropping an 81-71 friendly match to host Estonia in the capital city of Talinn past midnight on Wednesday, but the defeat ushered in positive vibes in the Gilas locker room.
No one was looking at the step back. They were looking at the many possible steps forward.
“I was very happy with our first game considering our bigs [were coming off injuries],” said men’s head coach Chot Reyes. “This is June Mar’s first game in six months, Japeth’s first game in four months.”
The Gilas men, preparing for the basketball World Cup that the Philippines will cohost in August, trailed by 22 early before clawing to within a field goal in the fourth quarter. But Estonia, displaying much more cohesion on offense and pressure on defense, held on.
“[The game was a] good first step,” Reyes said. “Going into this ball game, we knew we have a long way to go, a lot of work to be done because this is a work in progress.”
“[The loss] is part of the journey,” said guard Kiefer Ravena. “I know the results we want is a win always but right now, the process is more important.”
Part of the process will include cleaning up the team’s offense, which produced 23 turnovers that fed Estonia’s offense 21 points.
“This was our first game together as a team,” Reyes said. “I told the players we can expect that our offense is really going to struggle.”
“That’s the reason why we are here. This is the time we make mistakes, this is the time when we adjust, we grow and we develop resilience as a team,” he added.
The Gilas women, meanwhile, were in tears after Wednesday’s victory, which came against a squad that crushed them by 41 points just two years ago in Amman, Jordan.
De Jesus, the Duke standout, poured in 25 points, including a number of shots that kept Chinese-Taipei at bay in the fourth quarter. Bernardino, active on both ends of the court, added 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Animam had 16 points and 15 rebounds.
The Philippines has only produced wins in either classification rounds or promotion/relegation matches since its climb to Division A in 2017.
With Wednesday’s win, the team now can make short- and long-term goals.
First off, there’s trying to go deeper in the tournament.
“Now that we qualify for the crossover match, we need to prepare for New Zealand. We went up against them in 2019 and they are a much taller and more experienced team than us,” Aquino said.
Then there’s the need to expand the women’s program.
“Vanessa de Jesus is living proof of how elevated her game is,” Aquino said. “We need to cast a wider net to recruit more potential players abroad and of course expose the team to more international competition like this for off season trainings and tournaments.”
The women’s team, after all, is fighting for more than just court victories.
“I think we played for [more than] ourselves, knowing that we have a bigger responsibility of what this win means to to the women’s basketball community in the Philippines,” Animam said