Jack Animam thinks something bigger is on the horizon for Gilas Pilipinas.
“I think this is just the start of bigger things for this program,” Animam said on Wednesday after she, Vanessa de Jesus and Afril Bernardino led a shock 92-81 win over Chinese Taipei that dispatched Filipino women at the knockout stage of the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Women’s Asian Cup in Sydney, Australia.
“I think it’s time (to prove) that we belong in (Division A of) the Fiba Asian Cup,” coach Pat Aquino said. “I hope it’s not our last group victory and that there will be others to come. I’m just happy with what the players did. They never give up, they started strong and everyone contributed.
The Gilas men’s side suffered a setback, losing an 81-71 friendly to host Estonia in the capital of Talinn after midnight on Wednesday, but the loss ushered in positive vibes in the Gilas dressing room.
No one looked back. They were looking at the many possible advances.
“I was very happy with our first game considering our great players (coming out of injury),” 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, who are preparing for the Basketball World Cup which the Philippines will co-host in August, trailed 22 before hanging on to a basket in the fourth quarter. But Estonia, showing much more cohesion in attack and pressure in defence, held firm.
“(The match was a) good first step,” Reyes said. “Going into this ball game, we knew we had a long way to go, a lot of work to do because it’s a work in progress.”
“(Losing) is part of the journey,” said goalkeeper Kiefer Ravena. “I know the results we want are always a win, but right now the process is more important.”
Part of the process will include cleaning up the team’s attack, which produced 23 turnovers that powered the Estonian attack to 21 points.
“It was our first game together as a team,” Reyes said. “I told the players that we can expect our attack to really struggle.”
“That’s why we’re here. This is the time when we make mistakes, this is the time when we adapt, we grow and we develop resilience as a team,” he added.
The Gilas women, meanwhile, were in tears after Wednesday’s win over a side that crushed them by 41 points just two years ago in Amman, Jordan.
De Jesus, the standout Duke, had 25 points, including a number of shots that kept the Chinese-Taipei at bay in the fourth quarter. Bernardino, active on both sides of the court, added 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Animam had 16 points and 15 rebounds.
The Philippines have only picked up wins in the ranking rounds or promotion/relegation matches since rising to Division A in 2017.
With Wednesday’s victory, the team can now set short and long term goals.
First of all, he tries to go further in the tournament.
“Now that we qualify for the crossover game, we have to prepare for New Zealand. We played them in 2019 and they are a much bigger and more experienced team than us,” Aquino said.
Next, we must expand the women’s program.
“Vanessa de Jesus is living proof of how elevated her game is,” Aquino said. “We need to expand our network to recruit more potential players from abroad and of course expose the team to more international competitions like this for off-season training and tournaments.”
The women’s team, after all, fights for more than just wins on the field.
“I think we played for (more than) ourselves, knowing that we have a greater responsibility for what this victory means for the women’s basketball community in the Philippines,” Animam said.
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