Time for low-rated Perlas to show worth in SEAG
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine national women’s basketball team is out to capture a first-ever gold medal at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore this June after compiling eight silvers and five bronzes in 16 stagings of the biennial event since 1977.

Pat Aquino was designated head coach of the women’s squad, known as Perlas, by the SBP after a Search and Selection Committee appointed new head coaches for the men’s and women’s teams last December. The Committee also named Tab Baldwin to succeed Chot Reyes with Gilas.

For over a month, Aquino held tryouts and some 50 players showed up. He trimmed the pool to 15 but left the door open for three more invitees Danica Jose of Ateneo, Clare Castro of FEU and Tricia Piatos of La Salle. Last week, Aquino took the pool of 15 to Kuala Lumpur for tune-up games against the Malaysian national team, a Selangor state selection and a Kuala Lumpur club. Perlas beat the Kuala Lumpur club, 101-29, split a two-game series with the Malaysian national squad, winning 67-53 and losing 82-77 and clobbered Selangor. The team returned home Friday night.

“We’ve got about two months to train for the SEA Games,” said Aquino who coached the NU women’s varsity to a historic first UAAP senior championship behind a 16-0 sweep this season. “We’ll do a lot of drills to familiarize the players with our system. We want a running team. We’ve got small but very talented players and our bigs are capable of defending against the 6-3 and 6-4 players of Thailand. We’ll get a preview of the SEA Games at the SEABA Championships in late April or early May. That will be a gauge of how ready we are to go for gold in Singapore.”

Aquino said he encountered resistance from former national coach Haydee Ong in gathering the best women’s players for the Perlas tryouts. Ong and former Perlas team manager Cynthia Tiu requested Senators Sonny Angara and Pia Cayetano to hold a Senate hearing on the process of selecting the national coach last week. Among those who attended the hearing were SBP executive director Sonny Barrios, SBP deputy executive director for international affairs Butch Antonio, Aquino, PBA alternate governor for Blackwater Wilbert Loa, PSC chairman Richie Garcia, POC first vice president Joey Romasanta and POC board member Cynthia Carrion. Players loyal to Ong and some of those trying out for the coming SEA Games also came. 

“It was made clear at the hearing that the SBP, as the NSA for basketball, has the prerogative to select the national coach,” said Aquino.  “The Senate recognized the SBP’s authority as a private entity supported by FIBA and the POC. Coach Haydee mentioned that if she is to be replaced, the successor has to be better than her.”

Ong was national coach for seven years and the highlight of her stint was leading Perlas to the SEABA championship in 2010. At the last SEA Games, she coached the Philippines to a silver medal but the loss to first placer Thailand was a 75-36 rout.

Aquino said although the pool of 15 plus the three invitees is solid, he’d like to bring in at least three players from Ong’s camp, Fil-Am Melissa Jacob, Mary Joy Galicia and Lalaine Flormata. “Four players from coach Haydee’s SEA Games team in 2013 have crossed over to us,” said Aquino. “This mission is for the country. It’s nothing personal. We’re reaching out to coach Haydee’s players to join us. We want to form the strongest team possible and we’re asking for coach Haydee’s, Ma’m Cynthia’s and all the players’ cooperation.”

The pool of 15 is made up of 5-10 Amby Almazan of Adamson, 5-4 Ewon Arayi of Adamson, 5-4 Fria Bernardo of FEU, 5-8 Allana Lim of FEU, 5-9 Camille Sambile of FEU, 5-6 Raisa Palmera of FEU, 5-5 Cindy Resultay of UE, 5-5 Bea Daez of UP, 5-6 Sofia Roman of Dartmouth, 5-8 Afril Bernardino of NU, 5-8 Shelley Gupilan of NU, 6-1 Jack Danielle Animam of NU, 5-9 Gemma Miranda of NU, 5-10 Kristine Abriam of NU and 5-5 Andrea Tongco of NU. Jose, Castro and Piatos were late additions to the pool.

Aquino’s coaching staff is composed of Julie Amos, Paul Du, Aris Dimaunahan, trainer DA Olan and physical therapist Jessica Lavarias. Arayi is the only Perlas player who was on the Philippine team at the last two SEA Games. Jose played on the SEABA title team in 2010 and the Perlas team at the 2011 SEA Games but missed the 2013 edition. Almazan, Arayi, Bernardo and Resultay saw action at the last SEA Games.

Aquino coached the Philippine girls U16 team at the FIBA Asia Championships in 2009 and the U18 squad at the FIBA Asia Championships in 2010. In 2009, the U16 team posted a 3-3 record with wins over Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore and finished seventh. In 2010, the U18 squad defeated Syria, Sri Lanka and Laos in Level II and placed ninth of 12.  

“We’ve been relegated to Level II in FIBA Asia,” said Aquino. “Our mission is to move up to Level I. This will be a process and it starts with winning the gold at the SEA Games this June. It’s a big challenge. We’re grateful to Ever Bilena chairman Dioceldo Sy and the SM Group for their all-out support. All we want is to bring honor to our country.”

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