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De Jesus joins Gilas Pilipinas in Melbourne for final build-up

DUKE University ace Vanessa de Jesus landed in Melbourne yesterday to join Gilas Pilipinas women’s final build-up for the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup next week in Sydney.

Ms. De Jesus arrived from the United States almost at the same time with the Filipina ballers led by coach Pat Aquino following their trip from Manila, where they held camp since last month.

The core of this year’s Southeast Asian Games team in Cambodia, bannered by Jack Animam, make up the Gilas unit with Ms. De Jesus serving as reinforcement in her much-awaited national team debut.

Ms. De Jesus, an incoming senior for Duke in the US NCAA, obtained her Philippine passport last year but will fill the team’s naturalized spot given FIBA’s strict requirement to secure a passport before turning 16 to play as a local.

Gilas, like it has for the last two editions since being promoted in 2015, will try to retain its spot in the elite Division A featuring Asia’s best teams.

But it will also attempt to slay giants with the Asia Cup serving as a qualifier to the 2024 Paris Olympics. The champion team gets an automatic Paris seat with the next four squads gaining tickers in the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.

“We know we have a lot more to do but we have to be prepared to compete with the big guns of Asia,” Mr. Aquino told The STAR as Gilas braces for Group B action with five-time champion Japan, host Australia and Chinese Taipei on June 26 to July 3 at the Quaycentre in Sydney.

“Maintaining Division A status will always be our goal but having to compete and playing our hearts out is another thing for us this time.”

Gilas, which took a break yesterday, resumes practice today and is lined up for  at least two friendly games against Australian ball clubs before trooping to Sydney next weekend.

The wards of Mr. Aquino already tested their mettle against boys and men’s teams back home since last month like the Adamson juniors team and the visiting Azusa Pacific University from the US NCAA. — John Bryan Ulanday

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