IT’S ALL systems go for the Gilas Pilipinas women’s squad in a highly-anticipated return to the Asian Games firing off this weekend in Hangzhou, China.
After a rigid training camp here that included a bevy of friendly matches against top UAAP teams, the Filipinas are ready to go with hopes of flying the flag high side-by-side with the Gilas men’s team.
“As always, our goal is to compete to the highest level and represent our country well. Our main objective is to go to the next round (first),” head coach and program director Pat Aquino told The STAR as the Philippines marks an Asiad comeback for the first time since 1998.
The majority of the team will troop to Hangzhou today while some will leave tomorrow after wrapping up their final tune-up against Adamson.
The Filipinas previously drubbed Far Eastern U, the University of the Philippines and reigning seven-time UAAP champion National U, the former team of Aquino before handing it over to long-time deputy Aries Dimaunahan.
Last week, Gilas also had a rare chance to practice with Gilas men under coach Tim Cone in joint training at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City, where they also granted fans some time for photo opportunities.
Gilas, led by the veteran troika of Jack Animam, Afril Bernardino and Janine Pontejos, has been preparing for the Asiad since summer ignited by a two silver-medal harvest in the Cambodia Southeast Asian Games.
The team also claimed a historic sixth-place finish in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup Division A in Australia on top of a stint in the return of the Women’s Jones Cup and friendly games against Women’s Korean Basketball League teams.
Gilas’ productive campaign catapulted it to 37th place in the FIBA women’s world ranking from No. 42, which should be enough motivation and confidence to perform in the Asiad.
The Philippines is bunched in Group B with No. 70 Kazakhstan, No. 105 Hong Kong and No. 9 Japan, which finished runner-up to powerhouse USA in the Tokyo Olympics. — John Bryan Ulanday