Basketball never stops in the Philippines and though we are in the middle of the PBA Finals, there is another basketball tournament we should all be very excited about. The FIBA U18 Women’s Asian Championship happening in India from September 5-11.
Just a couple of months ago, our U16 team had a solid chance of playing for the title in Division B after their stellar play in the group stages. Unfortunately, Samoa avenged their earlier loss against Gilas in the semi-finals and relegated us to a still impressive 3rd place finish against Lebanon.
This time for the U18 squad, just like with the U16 team, Fil-am Nation thru the Global Summit hosted by Naveen Ganglani or Rappler is back to give our U18 Women’s team another shot in the arm with 3 can’t miss prospects in Sydney Heyn, Sumayah Sugapong, and Kate Bobadilla.
Size will always be a problem for us, and that is where Sydney Heyn can help. An incoming junior forward at Westview High School in San Diego, Sydney may not tower over other players standing only 6’0 tall and isn’t physically imposing, but she does not need to. Coach Cris Gopez says that Sydney plays a lot like Pau Gasol with her soft touch from the perimeter. A skill-set that will come in handy playing against athletes 2-4 inches taller on the regular.
Sydney also brings it on the defensive end, averaging at least 1 steal and 1 block per game during her sophomore year. A student of the game, when asked who she patterns her game after, Sydney mentioned WNBA great Lisa Leslie. Sydney’s range also extends to three, and she will have a lot of opportunities to showcase it, with Sumayah and Kate in tow.
Kate Bobadilla, a heady combo guard who recently committed to play college ball for Point Loma Nazarene University, will definitely push the pace every time she’s on the floor. Coach Cris described Kate as someone with a strong mid-range game and can finish with either hand on top of being a leader and a good defender.
In 61 games she played in high school, Kate averaged 18.7 ppg (50% FG and 31% from distance), 4.3 rpg, 2,5 apg and a whopping 3.5 steals per game. We can be sure the passing lanes won’t be safe for the other team with Kate around.
Then there’s Sumayah Sugapong. Just like Kate and Sydney, Sumayah is very humble and unassuming, but her game is loud. In a good way. Sumayah recently committed to play D1 college basketball at UC San Diego and we are lucky to have an opportunity to watch her play before embarking on her college career.
Sumayah is a product of La Jolla Country Day School where she plays with and against the best players not only in her age group but in the continental US. Her teammates in La Jolla include Gilas U16 standout Naomi Panganiban, and Team USA U17 players Jada Williams and 6’5 center Breya Cunningham.
La Jolla is the same school that produced WNBA player Kelsey Plum, which Sumayah played with and against several times, and Fil-am Mai-Loni Henson, who played professionally in France recently.
Sumayah is an all-around talent that has range. She can also get to the basket in a variety of ways and also enjoys providing intense on-ball defense.
Both Sumayah and Sydney are already here in the country training with the national team. Though they both noted that the intense physicality of the Filipino brand of play surprised them, both viewed it as a welcome change and not something that will derail them. With Kate, Sydney, and Sumayah joining an already properly motivated and prepared squad. There is every reason to be optimistic about the present and future of women’s basketball in the country.
2022 has been a banner year for Women’s basketball and the contributions of Fil-Am Nation, led by Coaches Cris Gopez and Alex Cabagnot, cannot be overlooked. All 3 young ladies, along with many more expressed gratitude for how Fil-Am nation has opened up a lot of opportunities for them not only in athletics but in immersing themselves in the Filipino culture.