MANILA – Gilas Pilipinas Women veteran Afril Bernardino is thankful for the patience and trust given to her by head coach and program director Patrick Aquino as she relearns the system ahead of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in Cambodia.
Bernardino had just rejoined the national women’s basketball team in late March after completing a five-month Philippine Navy Sailor Basic Course along with point guard Andrea Tongco.
“After graduation, binigyan ako ni Coach Pat ng three to five days na break, (and then) kailangan kong bumalik ulit sa training para sa preparation sa 3x3,” Bernardino shared.
It did not take long for Bernardino to represent the country anew, as she was named to the 3x3 women’s squad that competed in the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup in Singapore along with Clare Castro, Khate Castillo, and Janine Pontejos.
“Ang laki na ng adjustment talaga, thankfully andyan sina coach, pati ang mga teammates ko para gabayan ako.”
The former UAAP women’s MVP helped the Philippines beat Iran, 16-14 in the pool stage, before they bowed down to the higher-ranked New Zealand side, 17-10 in the playoffs.
“Medyo nag-aadjust pa ako sa ngayon. Paglabas ko rito, parang winelcome nila ulit ako, nag-start ako ulit sa umpisa,” Bernardino added.
The nationals’ quarterfinal finish equaled the highest for a women’s senior team; in 2019, Jack Danielle Animam led Gilas Women to the knockout stages too, although the Philippines lost to Australia.
For Aquino, the result of the tournament is vital for their continuous build-up for the biennial competition in Phnom Penh, which opens in May.
“Siguro ‘yung sa 3x3 natin is more of again, it’s a good thing we had a tournament or event prior to the SEA Games so we could see anong advantage at disadvantage ng grupo natin with Clare, with the two shooters or Afril,” he said.
“The bigs, we already saw them sa Manila Hustle 3x3, so again, we'll see it right now. Maganda makita anong kalalabasan natin, especially with Jack (Animam) coming back.”
Three changes were made for the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup iteration of the squad. Kacey Dela Rosa, Camille Clarin, and Katrina Guytingco, members of the title-winning Manila Hustle 3x3 squad last February, sat out to give way for the other mainstays.
Aquino has been utilizing preparation tournaments as platforms to test which player combination works best, given that he has not decided yet along with his coaching staff regarding the final 3x3 and 5-on-5 rosters.
Bernardino, on the other hand, is just glad to learn the ropes once more, patiently working on her adjustment period to reach her peak right before the regional sporting meet.
“‘Yung unang ginagawa ko before, ina-advice nila sa akin at hinahabaan nila ang pasensya nila sa akin kasi ‘yun nga, ‘yung adjustment, nahihirapan talaga ako, ‘yung rotation pa, parang hindi pa nag-cocombine ‘yung utak at katawan ko rito, sobrang laking adjustment para sa akin,” the forward said.
Expectations are massive for the ladies as they go for a gold medal three-peat in the 5-on-5 event, and Bernardino believes team chemistry will be the key in the end.
“Sa practice namin, sa sinasabi ng coach, araw-araw, palapit nang palapit ang SEA Games, isang buwan na lang rin, kaya improve lang ang skills and talent na binigay sa amin. Ipag-combine lang namin lahat, hopefully maging Maganda ang resulta,” she said.
“Bigay lang lahat ng best, effort at sacrifice para sa preparation na ito. Mas maganda ang kakalabasan ng tournament na ito.”