Throughout his years as Gilas Pilipinas Women head coach, Patrick Aquino has had the privilege of handling transcendent talents like Afril Bernardino and Jack Danielle Animam.
Now, the women's basketball national team tactician is happy to be coaching another once-in-a-generation player in teenage Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) center Kacey Dela Rosa.
"[She is] incredible. I am so happy for her. She lived up to her UAAP Rookie of the Year hype. [She will be] part of the upcoming phases of women’s basketball here in the Philippines," Aquino said.
It did not take long for Aquino to be impressed by the 6-foot center who was part of the Gilas Women-laden Lady MacBeth Riots. The team triumphed in the inaugural Manila Hustle 3x3 International Invitational last Sunday in Quezon City.
The reigning UAAP women's basketball Rookie of the Year poured nine points in the finale, anchoring her squad to a 21-11 win over Army Altama, which was also composed of former national team stalwarts.
Dela Rosa, who also won the event's Most Valuable Player award, would later on bare that she was only lined up as a replacement for Animam, who had signed with French top division club Toulouse last January.
"Inisip ko na lang na ako si Ate Jack," Dela Rosa joked about her first foray into the 3x3 discipline. "Nakakapagod siya. Gigising ka ng 7 a.m. para mag-training. Siguro ‘yung pagte-training namin, nag-pay off talaga siya. Nakakapagod siya kasi sanay na sila (mga kalaban)."
One of her teammates, Gilas Women mainstay and former Blue Eagle herself Katrina Guytingco, also expressed her excitement about having Dela Rosa on board.
"Everyone saw how much potential, how much talent she has. It’s very exciting to look forward in the future," Guytingco said.
"Although we lost Jack, we received a blessing in disguise in Kacey. It’s going to be a huge learning experience for her, she’s so young and so much more to learn and to grow, there is so much more to look forward to."
According to Aquino, Dela Rosa's commitment didn't come easy, as the incoming collegiate sophomore's focus is primarily on her academics and the Blue Eagles program.
Fortunately, the 18-year-old decided to start her senior national team journey as early as now, with support from the Katipunan side.
"Actually hindi [madali] kasi nasa Ateneo 'yung commitment ko, [pero] makakatulong ‘to sa experience ko lalo na if makuha ako nina Coach Pat sa SEA Games," Dela Rosa said.
Aquino is likewise grateful to have the budding star in the pool, as his squad gears up for a grueling 2023 schedule which includes stints at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup, FIBA Women's Asia Cup, and Asian Games.
"Sana dire-diretso lang siya, tuloy-tuloy, and when she has the chance to play for the national team, we will be there always," Aquino said.