GILAS Pilipinas Women’s Basketball is looking forward to successfully defending its title in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in May in Vietnam. — FIBA

NEXT year will be a busy one for Gilas Pilipinas Women’s Basketball, but one event it is keenly eyeing is the 31st Southeast Asian  Games (SEAG) in May in Vietnam.

The defending SEA Games champion in women’s 5-on-5, Gilas Women underscored the need to successfully defend its title to sustain the gains it has made and preserve its standing in the sport in the region.

“We worked hard for that (winning the title) and it is important we successfully defend it,” said veteran guard Janine Pontejos during their session at the online Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday.

The championship in 2019 was the first time the Philippines won the gold medal in biennial sporting meet for the event.

In winning the title, Gilas Women swept all of its three matches at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City to end up with six tournament points and the gold medal.

Ms. Pontejos was a key cog in the SEA Games team, along with fellow veterans Jack Animam, Afril Bernardino and Clare Castro.

The quartet also composed the team which won the gold in the 3×3 event.

Being a SEA Games champion is something national team young gun Camille Clarin hopes to experience as well.

“Definitely, I would love to be a part of that gold medal (team). We have a great program going for us,” said the National University standout, who recently made her debut with Gilas Women at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Women’s Asia Cup in Jordan.

Gilas coach Patrick Aquino, who was with Mses. Pontejos and Clarin at the PSA Forum, said they will soon start preparing for their campaign for next year.

He said they have had initial talks with the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) about their plans and he was happy to report that the response was good.

The coach also said that hopefully, they could work on the schedules of the players so that more will be available for key competitions.

Among the players they are hoping to have are Ms. Animam, who is currently playing in the Serbian league; US-born Filipina cager Mai-Loni Henson, a former University of Washington Huskies standout; and Ella Fajardo, a rookie playmaker from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Gilas is also hoping to see action in the Asian Games in China next year.

The 31st SEA Games was supposed to take place this December, but was moved to the latter part of May next year because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic situation in the region. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo