A TOUGH job lies ahead for Perlas Pilipinas in the Fiba Asia Women’s Cup two weeks from now, but coach Pat Aquino is confident the national women’s team will make the country proud in Bangalore, India.
The Filipina cagebelles earned a berth in the tournament that serves as qualifier to the 2018 Fiba Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain after making history by being promoted to level 1 after overachieving during the 2015 edition of the meet in Wuhan, China.
Aquino knows competition in the July 23-29 event is going to be tougher than the team’s stint in China. Then again, he hopes Perlas Pilipinas will be able to give the opposition a run for their money.
The Filipinas have been bracketed in Group B with defending champion Japan and world powers South Korea, and Australia, which sees action for the first time after the merging of the Fiba Oceania zone with Asia.
Group A has China, North Korea, Chinese Taipei, and New Zealand.
“Either group parehong mabigat so you just have to make do with the cards you’re dealt with,” said Aquino in a chat with SPIN.ph. “It’s very tough, but will try to keep every game close. We want to show that we do belong here.”
Aquino will be leaning anew on the same core that pulled off the stunning feat in Wuhan two years ago led by Afril Bernardino and Allana Lim, among others.
Perlas Pilipinas' stint comes three weeks before Gilas Pilipinas gets its own campaign rolling in the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon.
The team had hoped to add a naturalized player in Kelly Hardeman, a combo guard born and raised in the Philippines who played for Faith Academy in high school and Azusa Pacific - a US NCAA Division 2 school – during her college years.
Hardeman, who suited up for Amager in Denmark recently, already practiced with the team several times last month when she came over to the country for a vacation and at the same time, discussed her possible stint with Perlas as a naturalized player.
But the process for naturalization in Congress could take quite some time, and given the small window, it would be impossible to have Hardeman in the Perlas roster for the Fiba Asia Cup, and even the Southeast Asian Games, where it aims to win a first-ever gold medal.
“Malabo na yun (sa ngayon),” admitted Aquino.
Hardeman is now back in Los Angeles.
“Ang balak sana namin isabay yung naturalization niya (Hardeman) together with whoever Gilas (Pilipinas) is planning to naturalize as part of its pool,” said Blackwater team owner Dioceldo Sy, whose Ever Billena company has been bankrolling the campaign of the women’s squad.
“Para isang lakaran na lang sana. But since wala pang isinubmit ang Gilas for naturalization, we didn’t pursue it anymore,” added the long-time basketball patron while in Brisbane, Australia where he watched Manny Pacquiao’s title defense of the World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight belt against Jeff Horn.
But with or without a naturalized player, Sy is confident Perlas is capable of pulling off surprises in its first-ever stint in Level 1.
The team leaves for India on July 21.