THE Philippine women’s basketball team tries to hit two birds with one stone when it competes in the Fiba-Asia Women’s Championship in Bangkok, Thailand next week.
Other than eyeing a promotion to Level I of the biennial meet, the Discovery-Perlas ng Pilipinas will also try to validate its inclusion in the Philippine delegation to the coming Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar.
The team coached by veteran Haydee Ong, is currently in Level II along with fellow Southeast Asian counterparts Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand together with Hong Kong and Uzbekistan, hoping to top the group for a shot at being promoted to Level I two years from now.
Moreover, beating the Thais, Indons, and Malaysians likewise meant reinforcing the Filipinas’ competence of winning a first-ever gold medal in the SEA Games.
But Ong would rather not put pressure on her team, saying the Filipinas are just taking things one step at a time when they appeared in Tuesday’s PSA Forum at Shakey’s Malate.
“The team is actually concentrating on Fiba-Asia right now. Hindi muna namin iniisip `yung SEA Games, because our goal now is to make it to Level I,” said the women’s team coach.
Ong, who’s been at the helm of the team since 2008, is joined in the session presented by Shakey’s and Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corporation, by assistant Gina Francisco, co-captains Merenciana Arayi and Joan Grajales, and stalwarts Chovi Borja, Analyn Almazan, Lalaine Flormata, Casey Tioseco, Fil-Am Melissa Jacob, and newcomers Mary Joy Galicia, Fria Bernardo, Bernadette Mercado, Cindy Resultay, and Denise Patricia Tiu.
The team is leaving on the 25th of this month and plunges into action right away in the opener on the 27th against Hong Kong. The Filipinas take on Uzbekistan the following day, and then Thailand on the 29th, Malaysia on the 30th, and Indonesia on the 31st.
A top two finish in Level II at the end of the preliminaries will earn the Filipinas a shot at either the No. 5 or No. 6 team in Level I for outright promotion in the 2015 edition of the tournament.
Outside of their SEA Games counterpart, the Filipinas are not actually familiar with teams from Hong Kong and Uzbekistan.
“Almost alam na rin naman namin `yung strength and weaknesses ng mga teams. Actually kumpiyansa kami against sa mga SEA Games teams, Hong Kong at Uzbekistan pa lang ang di namin nakikita,” said Grijales, who’s the most senior among the Filipinas as she had been in the team since 2003.
Although the Filipinas had already been included in the entry by names submitted by the Philippine Olympic Committee to the Myanmar SEA Games organizing committee, the Filipinas are still out to prove they are capable of reigning as champions in the region with wins over the Thais, Malaysians, and Indonesians.
“Indonesia and Thailand have new coaches although the core of their players are still the same,” said Ong, who admitted size remains as the team’s biggest drawback.
“But we’ll take our advantage of our speed, quickness, and outside shooting to beat them.”
The Filipinas actually came close to dethroning the Thais in the 2011 SEA Games except for some late calls that didn’t go their way during the homestretch of the gold medal match, relegating them to the silver medal for the second time since 1995.
“As host may edge sila sa crowd,” said Ong. “And remember ang women’s basketball in Thailand is more popular than the men’s, kaya all games ng Thailand are main event.”
“Siyempre lahat naman tayo gustong bumawi,” said Borja. “Yung failure namin sa SEA Games ang panghahawakan natin sa Fiba-Asia.”