Defending the title will not be easy as Gilas Pilipinas Women squad opens its campaign against a Cambodian team powered by naturalized players in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games.
Gilas head coach Patrick Aquino said the Cambodians have already stated naturalizing players in a bid to dethrone the Filipinas in the women’s basketball event of the biennial meet.
In fact, the host country is bringing in American and European players as it seeks to make an impact in the event that was ruled by the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia in the previous biennial meet in Hanoi last year.
Aquino said the design is very similar to what they have been doing as they created a program — Fil-Am Select — that aims to discover young Filipino-American cagers who are willing to secure Philippine passport before turning 16 to make them eligible for international play.
“They’re more into naturalizing players,” Aquino told Daily Tribune in a telephone interview.
“I’ve heard they are bringing in European and American players who were naturalized and that’s the reason why Cambodia is joining the SEA Games for the first time after long years of absence.”
Aquino admitted that they are wary of the Cambodians.
“We can’t take this team lightly,” Aquino said. Turn to page D22
“They may have a new program and is making its debut, but they have solid recruitment. I won’t be surprised if other teams, including Singapore, will bring in naturalized players as well.”
Cambodia is expected to pull off a lot of surprises with its naturalized players.
Leading the charge for the Cambodians is Jasmine Kong — a daughter of Cambodians who immigrated to the United States during the civil war.
She played college ball at Westcliff University in Irvine, California and helped in the recruitment of other quality players like Sima Suon, Sidtia and Tianna Sidtikun.
Sofia Roman, who is making a return after playing for the Gilas cagebelles in the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, bared that her former teammate in the US — Kim Hanlon-Schofield — will also be playing for Cambodia.
“She’s strong,” wrote Roman via Messenger.
“She can play both forward spots at 5-foot-9.”
Gilas Women will open its SEA Games campaign against Cambodia on 10 May at the Elephant Hall 2 in Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh.