Wanted: Potential naturalized player for Gilas Women

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 12 2021 07:32 PM

Pat Aquino via FIBA.basketball
Gilas Pilipinas women's coach Pat Aquino. FIBA.basketball

MANILA, Philippines -- Patrick Aquino is still hoping that the Gilas Pilipinas Women will have a naturalized player in the near future, although he has yet to find a player that will fit in their program.

Fielding naturalized players is not new for the men's senior team, which has featured Marcus Douthit, Andray Blatche, and most recently Ange Kouame in international competitions. Blatche, a former NBA player, suited up for the Philippines in the 2014 and 2019 editions of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

"'Yun problema ngayon natin – finding some players that would be willing enough to come here, you know, would be willing to play for us," Aquino said of the challenge in naturalizing a player for the women's program.

There were talks that Congolese center Rhena Itesi, who played for Aquino in National University, could have been a candidate for naturalization. In 2017, there were discussions of naturalizing Kelly Hardeman, a Philippine-born American player.

Aquino stressed that whoever they choose will have to be the right fit for the rapidly rising program, as the Gilas Women are determined to sustain the gains from their historic triumph in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

"Kailangan medyo, ako sa akin, mga bata na ulit, mga bata 'yung makuha natin," he explained.

"So I'm still looking for a new naturalized player, a much taller one, possible ba na mas mataas talaga who could help us 'yung wala tayo dito sa Pilipinas, 'yung 'di natin makuha sa ibang local or mga Fil-Am natin," he added.

In the meantime, the Philippines will likely field Filipino-American player Mai-Loni Henson as their naturalized player in their competitions in 2022.

Henson, who played for University of Washington in college and is now a pro in France, acquired her Philippine passport this year and can be the team's naturalized player. FIBA rules require players to obtain a passport from the country that they want to represent by the age of 16 in order to be eligible as a local.

But Aquino has no doubts that he will have the support of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas should another candidate for naturalization emerge for the Gilas Pilipinas Women.

"It is a possibility, with the help of SBP funding and their all-out support for us. We could have a possible naturalized player in the future," he said.