The Gilas youth program will now bring the Philippine flag to Division A. —FIBA.BASKETBALL

The Gilas youth program will now bring the Philippine flag to Division A. —FIBA.BASKETBALL

Gilas Pilipinas will finally get a chance to prove that his charges can hang with the finest in the region.

National coach Patrick Aquino and his gallant U16 girls squad made sure in absolute terms.

“This is all a testament to our program. I know we took a long way, but we are getting there,” Aquino said after the team’s promotion to Division A, where the Philippines will finally get to test its caliber against the continent’s elite like China and Japan.

No one seems to mind the wait, not after a dominant run in the Under-16 Asian Championship in Jordan that caught the attention of the international basketball federation (Fiba).

“It was a run for the ages, without a doubt,” Fiba said in a report on its website where it described the U16 girls’ run as probably the best in Division B.

The Philippines earned their promotion after an 83-60 victory over Iran in the final, which capped a stint where it blew opponents out of the water by an average winning margin of 53.4 points.

It was truly a commendable outing for this Gilas crew that featured 10 new faces. Only Ava Fajardo and Ryan Nair were part of the 2022 roster that fell to eventual champion Samoa in the semifinals, eventually missing out on promotion. This time, the squad turned in eye-popping numbers that even bested the outings of the tournament’s previous winners.

The Philippines shot 38.3 percent from the field, tallied 98.2 points, 60.8 rebounds and 27 assists per game to eclipse the averages of the previous winners Samoa and India, according to a breakdown released by Fiba on Monday afternoon.The Nationals were just as cutthroat on defense with an eye-popping 27.2 steals per game that fueled their 39.4 errors forced against just 14.4 turnovers committed—all better than how the two other champions fared during their respective runs.

Smith starring

Against Iran, Nevaeh Smith starred in the blowout with 21 points, including a four-point play halfway through the opening period that Gilas used to build its lead on before nurturing it the rest of the way at Prince Hamzah Hall in Amman.

The Gilas Girls’ feat comes just a couple of weeks after a promising campaign by the Women’s team in the Asia Cup in Sydney Australia, where the squad led by Jack Animam and Afril Bernardino and newcomer Vanessa de Jesus finally won in the group phase while threatening perennial favorites New Zealand and South Korea. “It’s a great sense of fulfillment to reach this team’s success knowing our hard work and dedication paid off,” Aquino told the Inquirer in a message from Jordan.

“This is a big accomplishment that will keep us on the right track,” he added. “This Gilas Youth win solidifies the success of our basketball program as we continue to prove that we belong with the best of the best.”

Heroines abounded Gilas in the contest with Fajardo putting up 12 points, Ariel de la O adding 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Alyssia Palma chipping in eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in what could very well be a glimpse of the future of the national program.

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