A recent Gilas Pilipinas Women tryout in La Verne, California affirmed a certain truth that head coach Pat Aquino had known all along in the past year: there is a bevy of ready Filipino-American prospects capable of shoring up the national team's depth at the FIBA level.
Now the focus is on the next step, where Aquino and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) will look to sort out logistics in order to ensure the availability of these players in future tournaments.
Aquino, who oversaw a two-day tryout organized by the federation in partnership with Fil-Am Nation Select last June 4 to 5, said he was certainly impressed with the level of talent showcased by 14 women who expressed interest in representing the Philippines internationally.
"It was good to see them live in action and I properly saw who could fit the team. But everyone was talented and very willing to represent the country. I'm excited for the Gilas Pilipinas Women's program," the 50-year-old mentor said.
On hand for the workouts were Mai-Lani Henson, a former University of Washington Huskies standout currently playing professional basketball in France; Haley Sii of Capistrano Valley Christian High School; Erica Gray of Huston-Tillotson University; Kiera Oakry of University of San Diego; Jayda Villareal of Cal Poly Pomona; Gabby Rones of University of Nevada; Kristan Yumul of Westlake High School; Stefanie Bernabe of Westmont University; Laila Salazar of Marshall High School; Alina Daffon of Cal State Maritime; Katie Bobadilla of 29 Palms High School; Julie Barroquillo of National University; Malia Bambrick of Pepperdine University; and Jessica Malzarte of Fresno Pacific.
While all 14 undoubtedly possessed the skills that could earn them Gilas call-ups in the future, Aquino said it was Henson, Bernabe, Oakry and Bambrick who displayed the most FIBA-ready potential.
"I think they can fit at the international level already," he said of the four players. "But I'm not closing any doors on anybody."
The tricky part will be getting the prospects that they want to immediately suit up for Gilas Women.
First, they will all have to secure their dual citizenships. Of the four women Aquino name-dropped, only Henson is readily eligible for FIBA play, although he did say that every other prospect is "eager and very willing" to begin the process of getting their passports.
"I just want them to get their dual citizenships just in case they are called to represent our country," Aquino commented. "Fil-Am Nation Select's coach Cris Gopez is handling all the papers, and we at the SBP are just going to support their needs in case they will have a problem."
Time is of the essence, especially since Gilas Pilipinas Women has three tournaments on the docket in the second half of 2021.
The national team will first send a contingent to the FIBA 3x3 Under-18 World Cup in Hungary in August before buckling down for more preparations for the FIBA Women's Asia Cup in India in September. Two months after that, Gilas Women will see action again in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam in November.
"It's going to be a race for time because we don't know how long the process will be," Aquino said. "I'm not ruling them out as long as they fix their dual citizenships and they are willing to represent our country. I'm still extending my arms to them."
Availability will remain a question even after they secure their passports, especially since the schedules of some collegiate tournaments and pro leagues could run in conjunction with the FIBA events that Gilas will participate in.
Even the SBP tryout was not spared of this problem, as at least 14 others -- including WNBA hopeful Chanelle Molina, Duke University's Vanessa de Jesus, and Gilas 3x3 standout Ella Fajardo -- opted out due to prior commitments.
Aquino, however, remains optimistic that Gilas can make things work when needed.
"The scheduling may be a problem. But fingers crossed, we will make it happen," Aquino said.