As a women's basketball coach, Patrick Aquino has a list of accomplishments that would make any of his peers envious: a 56-game winning streak for his NU Lady Bulldogs, four straight UAAP women's championships, and qualification to Division A of FIBA Women's Asia Cup for Perlas Pilipinas.
Now he faces perhaps his toughest test yet which, if he aces it, would make him truly one of the most successful Philippine basketball coaches of his time.
On June 8, Aquino and four of his Perlas players will embark on a new mission as they take on teams from 19 other countries in the FIBA 3x3 World Cup 2018 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue.
This is a unique challenge for Aquino and his crew, composed of Jack Danielle Animam, Afril Bernardino, Gemma Miranda and Janine Pontejos. This is the first time any of them will be playing 3x3 basketball. In fact, this is the first time that the Philippines will be fielding a team in the women's division of a FIBA 3x3 tournament.
As such, Team Philippines drew the lowest seed among the 20 teams. As if that weren't enough, the girls found themselves in perhaps the toughest of the four groups, being drawn with no. 4 Hungary, no. 5 Netherlands, no. 12 Germany and no. 13 Spain.
The monumental task in front of them is not lost on Aquino.
"They're all tough teams," he said at the press conference for the event held at a hotel in Quezon City. "We're in the Group of Death in the women's competition. I guess we'll just have to do well, and prove that we belong in this kind of competition.
"The level is higher. You learn more. As a coach, I want the girls to improve more and show that at this level we can compete not only at the Asian but international level as well."
Animam says the transition from five on five to three on three was tough at first, as the rules and pace of play are vastly different.
"The biggest adjustment that we made is our conditioning because 3x3 is a lot faster than five on five," said the center, who at six-one is the tallest on the team. "So we really worked hard on our conditioning and we've been practicing for three or four months. We're very excited since this is the first time that the Philippines will field a women's team. We will be a surprise."
For Aquino, the FIBA 3x3 is important not just because of the level of competition. It's also perhaps the last international tournament that his players - albeit just four of them - will join this year.
"We're frustrated about not being in the Asian Games," he admitted. "That's going to be another stumbling block for us coming into next year for the Southeast Asian Games. Without any tournament for this year it's going to be hard for us to continue the process that we've been doing.
"The mindset is just to play as hard as we can. The bracket that we are in is so tough that anybody in that bracket can be champion. I hope we can keep pace with them and not get blown out."
Aquino also hopes a strong showing in Bocaue will give women's basketball the attention it deserves.
"The girls don't get noticed. It's always Gilas. There's a lot of frustration from the girls. They're the ones working hard. After college, after Perlas, there's nothing left for them. We hope that we can have something for them in the future like a semi-pro tournament. I think it's about time that we balance the men's and women's (teams)."
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) secretary-general Sonny Barrios echoed Aquino's sentiments.
"I just want to make a special pitch for our women's team. The men's team, as you know, are professional players. They really get as much media exposure as they can get. The women's team are a bit unknown even to our own basketball audience. Just to give you an idea about how serious they are, they practiced around 30 times versus the men's team around 10 times. Not to blame the men, it's because of their scheduling constraints. But the women are so serious in pulling off a surprise. Please ask our fans to support our women's team. These girls are from the elite collegiate league and Jack's team has been unbeaten for the last (56) games. They're the dominant women collegiate team."
The Philippine women's team opens its campaign on June 8, taking on the Netehrlands at 2:50PM and Germany at 6:30PM.