By REYNALD MAGALLON
The Gilas Pilipinas Women team is getting reinforcements when it returns to action in the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup pre-qualifying tournament in February.
National team mainstay Jack Animam is set to rejoin the team after missing the Fiba Women’s Asia Cup last September while prized recruit Mai Loni Henson, a 6-foot-1 Fil-American forward, will finally be part of the pool.
“Jack is coming back and I have Mai Loni Henson. She’s a former Washington University standout. She’s about 6’1, played forward, center and guard,” said coach Pat Aquino during Philippine Sportswriter Association (PSA) Online Forum on Tuesday.
Henson and the 6-foot-5 Animam should be a welcome addition for the Gilas team which obviously lacked the ceiling during its FIBA Asia Cup campaign in Jordan.
The Filipinas were visibly outplayed by much taller and quicker teams from China, Australia and Chinese Taipei in continental tournament. Needing a graceful exit, Gilas willed its way to score a 74-70 win over India and finish seventh to keep its spot in Division A.
“We’re already talking with Jack. We’re always in contact and sabi ko syempre wag mo kalimutan yung country natin. Sabi naman nya okay na, I’ll be there in February, it’s a matter of scheduling,” Aquino said of the former National University Lady Bulldogs standout who is currently playing pro basketball in Serbia.
Henson, meanwhile, played four years of US NCAA Division I basketball and is currently suiting up in a professional league in France.
With the two reinforcing the Gilas squad led by veterans Afril Bernardino and Janine Pontejos, and the experience the young players got during the Asia Cup, Aquino is optimistic that the team can perform well in the pre-qualifying tournament.
“With the experience the young ones got and the veterans na nag step up pa sa atin, it could be more interesting, sabihin natin magandang panoorin pagdating ng February,” he added.
Aquino is also hopeful that the team could start its preparations by November, before going with another bubble training in January.
“We expect to have it by November maski thrice a week lang uli just to keep our physical shape and rhythm namin.”