Sy hails SBP open policy on Perlas five

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Perlas team manager and Ever Bilena CEO Dioceldo Sy yesterday credited the SBP for its “no-politics” policy in allowing the Philippine women’s basketball team to develop into a regional contender with the POC-recognized national sports association’s full backing.

Last September, Perlas made history by gaining Level I status, claiming fifth place at the FIBA Asia Championships in Wuhan for the country’s best finish in the zonal competition in 31 years. The promotion from Level II to Level I put the Philippines in the company of China, South Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei and North Korea. The Philippines finished 10th in its two previous FIBA Asia appearances.

It wasn’t easy breaking into FIBA Asia’s top six elite bracket. In Wuhan, the Philippines was tripped by Malaysia, 71-64, in its first outing then won five in a row over North Korea, 68-67, Sri Lanka, 65-45, Hong Kong, 75-62, Kazakhstan, 80-73 in overtime and India, 82-76, to advance to Level I under coach Pat Aquino.

“The SBP gave us a free hand to select the coaching staff and players for Perlas,” said Sy who also owns the Blackwater franchise in the PBA. “They gave us their confidence without interfering with our program. Absolutely, no politics involved. We formed the best coaching staff for the team with Pat as head coach and Julie Amos and Aris Dimaunahan as assistants. Because of our showing, we’re one of the few teams invited to participate in an international competition in China next year. We’re also planning to play at the Jones Cup in Taipei in July. It’s quite an achievement for the Philippines to be promoted from No. 16 to No. 5 in FIBA Asia.”

Sy said he is considering to recruit a naturalized player for Perlas and the leading candidate is 6-4 Rhena Itesi of Congo. Itesi plays for the NU Lady Bulldogs in the UAAP. Sy added that Perlas is also on the lookout for Fil-foreigners who will be able to bolster the national team lineup.

Five players from Perlas are in the Lady Bulldogs team that battles Ateneo in Game 2 of the UAAP senior women’s basketball Finals at 3 p.m. today in the Blue Eagle Gym. A win by NU will wrap up the crown and complete a 16-0 sweep for the second straight year. Last Wednesday, NU beat the Lady Eagles, 91-59, in Game 1 of the Finals. Ateneo overcame a twice-to-win disadvantage to eliminate La Salle in the semifinals while NU drew a bye for finishing the eliminations unscathed. Under the UAAP Finals format, NU needs to beat Ateneo twice but the Lady Eagles must defeat the Lady Bulldogs thrice to clinch the title.

The five Perlas players in the NU roster are UAAP back-to-back Afril Bernardino, Shelley Gupilan, Jack Danielle Animam, Andrea Tongco and Gemma Miranda. Bernardino led the charge in NU’s win over Ateneo in Game 1 with 17 points and 18 rebounds.

“Personally, I feel proud of NU’s achievement,” said Sy who is the Lady Bulldogs’ team manager. “On my first year with NU in 2012, we finished fifth which was an improvement from No. 7 the previous season. Then, we made it to the Finals the next year, losing to La Salle in Game 3 by one point. Last season, we won our first-ever championship with a sweep. We beat FEU in the Finals. Now, we’re one win away from another sweep.”

Sy said the entry of rookies Itesi and Animam has made a difference. “We got bigger with Rhena and Jack,” he said. “The experience of our five Perlas players was another boost. Our players are motivated because they want to stay with or join the national team. I think it’s the same motivation for the other players in the UAAP. If you play well, the bonus is a slot with Perlas.”

Sy said the Lady Bulldogs aren’t taking any chances against Ateneo. “We’re going for the kill,” he said. “It’s no holds barred. In Game 1, coach Pat sat down our starters in the last few minutes and our lead went down from 38 to 32. He quickly called a timeout and scolded the players. Coach Pat wants to instill that fighting spirit, regardless of the margin. He wants his players, whether they’re in the first or second or third unit, to always play hard.”

Aquino said building an NU dynasty is far from his mind. “I’m not thinking of that,” he said. “For me, every season is a challenge. What I know is we’re reaping the fruits of our labor. We worked hard to rebuild the NU program and now, it’s paying dividends. Last year, our average winning margin was about five points. This year, it’s more than 20. We’ve added ceiling to our team with Rhena and Jack then we’ve got the athletic ability of Afril, the shooting versatility of Shelley, Risa Paig and Trixie Antiquiera and the playmaking of Andrea and Janeth Sison.”

Aquino said NU is losing Gupilan, Paig, Tongco and Kristine Abriam to graduation but there are at least 20 players in the farm system trying out for Team A. “We’re looking ahead,” said Aquino. “One of our future players is 13-year-old Kristine Cayabyab whom we discovered at the Nike Rise program. She’s in high school in Dagupan. We expect to bring her in to our seniors program by 2019.”


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