After four years of courtship, Filipino-American Kelli Hayes has finally arrived for the Philippine Women’s National Basketball Team.
And the 23-year-old guard out of UCLA has already been given a huge task by Perlas Pilipinas head coach Patrick Aquino.
“Kelli is the most experienced here in the group,” said Aquino.
“Yung talent niya is really different. We expect a lot from here, scoring, defending, and leadership.”
For starters, Hayes – whose mother hails from Tondo, Manila – is a big-time player, having played in the March in her last three years of college.
During her senior year, she averaged 6.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists as a starter. She helped steer the Bruins to the Elite Eight – the school’s highest finish in 19 years.
Hayes admitted that she is excited with what lies ahead. But in order to fulfill the expectations of her, she shared that she needs to know her teammates more.
“It’s exciting. I’m still nervous because I haven’t played basketball in a while. But I’m excited to be here with my teammates. I’ve been learning a lot from them whether it be Tagalog or the system,” the cager who was born in San Jose, California shared.
“Building relationships with them has been fun.”
Standing at 6-foot tall, Hayes will have to play as a big alongside 6-foot-4 Clare Castro, 6-foot-2 Jack Animam, and 6-foot-2 Danica Jose. The natural shooting guard is willing to do whatever it takes for the team.
“I’m excited about it. I know these girls have been working out the past few months and I’m a foreigner here coming in. But I feel like we have been blending really well. When the game of basketball is played right, it doesn’t matter who you are playing with,” she said.
“I’m excited about that, just bringing my best self may that be communicating, being a leader, rebounding, being a defensive player, being a scorer, it’s being a universal utility player and whatever they want me to do, I’m going to do it.”
Perlas will have two big tournaments for the year — the 2019 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup on September and the SEA Games in New Clark City later this year.
Expectations will be high on the national team after finishing seventh in the continental meet two years ago while wanting to finish with gold for the first time in the regional meet.
Hayes is not pressured with those lofty expectations, saying that the main goal of hers is to play the game properly.
“I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about being the best player I can be for this team.”