THE SEARCH is on.
As Gilas Pilipinas Women's head coach Patrick Aquino continued scouting for talents to add to the ladies' national team, he's got his eyes fixed on a couple of standouts for quite a while now.
Aquino, who mentored the squad that brought home double gold in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, is still in the United States, building connections for his short-term and long-term goals for the program.
For one final push before he heads back home, he — alongside the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas — partnered with Fil-Am Nation Select organization to conduct an official tryouts in the States on June 4 to 5 (5 to 6 in Manila time).
Initially, they sent an invite to over 20 Fil-Am women, but only 12 confirmed to take the shot. Duke standout Vanessa de Jesus is among the ones who opted out, as well as Indiana Fever former trainee Chanelle Molina.
Despite their non-appearance, the tryouts still fielded a very deep bench.
One of Aquino's personal picks is University of Washington graduate Mai-Loni Henson, who's already had experience in the pros, playing in a French league from 2020 to 2021.
She proved to be an all-around player in her college years. Henson averaged 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, ranking second in assists with 2.4 apg, and third in steals with 1.2 spg in her last year with Washington Huskies.
Beside her skills, it's her height and position that got Aquino interested.
"She got my attention because of her height (6"1), and plays forward so she can complement the games with Jack (Animam) and Afril (Bernardino), nothing is overlapping in each position," he told SPIN Life.
Aquino also has high expectations for her on-court maturity, having played in a pro league and in a premier level in college for four years. Henson started all 30 games for the Huskies in her senior year.
"She also has the experience playing abroad and in college, so it brings a lot of dimension in her playing style," he said.
At 23 years old, however, she is still working on getting her Filipino passport.
If circumstances don't align, Coach Pat is still hopeful that she can help the team in non-Fiba competitions like the upcoming 2021 SEA Games.
"She is in the process of getting one already [passport], and yes, she can play [non-Fiba], or maybe, she can be our naturalized player too," he said.
From her end, Henson also expressed utmost interest in bannering the Philippine flag, and making her Filipina mom proud.
"I want to make my mom and my fellow Filipinos proud and be a part of putting us on the map," she said in an Instagram post.
She continued: "Since I was a little girl, I’ve always had dreams of playing basketball on the big stage in the WNBA but as I got older, I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest stages for me is to play for the Filipino National Team."
Other attendees would be Erica Cray (sister of Filipino-American track and field athlete Eric Cray), Malia Bambrick, Lynette Garon, Alina Daffon, Mel Isbell, Gabby Rones, Jessica Malzarte, Kiera Oakry, Stefanie Berberabe, Kayla Revelo, and Nikki Villasin.
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