Vicente convinced Dindin Santiago still has what it takes to play for national team
Dindin Santiago-Manabat is on the comeback trail after giving birth, but still enjoys the full trust and confidence of national coach Francis Vicente. Jerome Ascano

ALMOST six months after she gave birth to her first child, Dindin Santiago-Manabat still has a strong believer in national coach Francis Vicente who is convinced she still has what it takes to play for flag and country.

Vicente is confident the 6-foot-2 former National University ace could regain her old fighting form if ever if she makes the national team that is set to compete in the AVC Asian Women’s Seniors Championship in Manila and the 29th Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur.

"I think kaya pa ni Dindin maglaro sa high level," said Vicente.

"All she needs is to train hard and believe in herself that she can still make it," he added. "Bata pa naman siya, kayang kaya pa 'yan. Masipag naman siya eh."

Vicente obviously knows what he's talking about. Santiago-Manabat played under him during her high school years at the University of Santo Tomas where they won three UAAP junior titles together.

When he transfered to NU, Dindin and her younger sister Jaja also went with him.

She became a dominant force for Petron in the Philippine Super Liga and became part of its first championship team in 2014 Grand Prix via rare 13-0 sweep of the All-Filipino Conference the following year. She also scored 37 points, the highest record for a local player in the PSL.

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Santiago-Manabat took a break at the end of the 2015 season due to her pregnancy, before she returned in the 2016 PSL Grand Prix and reunited with Jaja to help Foton retain the title at the expense of her former team.

Santiago is a veteran of the AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship in Vietnam in 2014 and the 28th SEA Games in Singapore in 2015. But the first-time mom admitted in previous interviews that she has yet to regain her old form.

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Jaja, however, thinks otherwise.

"Lagi ko sinasabi kay Ate Din na kaya pa niya," said Jaja. "Siguro psychologically, naiba ang pananaw niya, pero kasi ako nakikita ko na andon pa rin 'yung skill level niya. Kailangan niya lang mabalik ang kumpyansa niya."

With the much needed moral support, Santiago-Manabat is all set to attend the tryouts for the national team. The first leg will be on January 28, 29 and 31 at the Arellano University gymnasium in Taft Avenue, Manila.

But Vicente reiterated that there will still be no special treatment for his former wards.

"We want to come up with an honest-to-goodness selection process. Ayaw namin dito na may mga star or special treatment. Lahat dapat mag-tryout kahit na dati pa kitang player, 'di automatic pasok ka na," he said.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @meilinlozada