More eligible prospects in the United States could find themselves wearing the Gilas Pilipinas Women's jersey soon thanks to head coach Pat Aquino's unrelenting effort to scour the country for new talents.
Recently, Aquino's search Stateside has actually yielded some encounters with a couple of names who could eventually be main players for the program in the coming years.
The 49-year-old coach on Friday shared how he recently chanced upon Erin Sotto, the younger sister of Australian NBL-bound Kai, and Laila Phelia, a Filipino-American guard who has committed to play for University of Michigan in NCAA Division I.
The 18-year-old Phelia played high school basketball with Mount Notre Dame in Cincinnati and helped the Cougars win a title in every season of her four-year stay.
Mount Notre Dame went 28-0 in the 2021 season with Phelia, who averaged 16.4 points (second team-wide) on 50.0 percent shooting, 3.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 25 games.
Aquino became acquainted with the 5-foot-10 guard in a recent gathering organized by East West Private (EWP), which posted a photo of the coach alongside Phelia and national team mainstay Jack Animam on Thursday.
"I just met Laila Phelia in person. She is one of my prospects, and she will be going to school next year at the University of Michigan," he said.
Also present in the event was Erin, who already stands at 6-foot-1 at just 11 years-old.
Asked if the younger Sotto is a possible Gilas recruit down the line, Aquino said he is very much open to the possibility.
"She just happened to pass by the workout," he explained. "I just met her and his dad (Ervin) was there also, maybe just to show her how Jack works out."
"But maybe in the future (she can be one of our prospects)," Aquino added. "She's welcome to join Gilas."
Aquino, who has been in the U.S since last year to look for new recruits for the Gilas Women program, said EWP has committed to helping him in his bid to search for more talents.
This link-up could prove beneficial in June, when the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) and talent agency Fil-Am Nation Select host a tryout for potential prospects for the senior 5-on-5 and 3x3 teams.
"They said they'll help with finding new prospects," Aquino opened. "I'll be having a tryout for new prospects in La Verne, California this coming June 4 to 5. A lot have been messaging me about the tryout, and I'm excited. Hopefully can find some good prospects for Gilas."
As it stands, EWP is already partially connected to Aquino through Animam, who recently joined Sotto, Kobe Paras, and Cholo Anonuevo in signing with the U.S-based talent firm.
Animam, the five-time UAAP champion and two-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist who propelled Shih Hsin University to a title in the University Basketball Association (UBA) earlier this year, hopes to make a push for a professional career in the WNBA or in European leagues sometime in the near future.
"Jack being with EWP is an opportunity for her to bring her talent abroad, to help her explore more options for her playing career," said Aquino. "But she said Gilas will always still be a priority."
In the meantime, Aquino said the 22-year-old center is taking it slow by working on certain facets of her game, like her quickness and shooting.