Meet The 22-Year-Old Assistant Coach Of Gilas Pilipinas

Here's what it's like to be an assistant coach to Gilas Pilipinas at just 22 years old.

At just 20 years old and still in college then, Sandro Soriano was recruited to be part of the Gilas Pilipinas coaching staff.

As a member of the men’s national basketball team, Sandro Soriano starts the day early. Ever since the pandemic, he and the whole team have operated in a bubble setting where Sandro and the others spend most of the day together. Usually, a day in the bubble starts at 8:00 AM with practice until 11:30 AM. They then have lunch and afterwards, he has a meeting with the coaches from 1:30 PM until 3:30 PM. He gets to rest for a bit before having a viewing session at 6:00 PM. After viewing, they go right back straight to practice from 7:00 PM until 9:00 PM.

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After dinner, he attends another coaches’ meeting from 10:00 PM until 12:00 MN. Sandro’s day doesn’t end though as he then works until around 1:30 AM to make sure everything is ready for the next day in the bubble. But Sandro isn’t a player. Despite being 22 years old and near the ages as most of the Gilas players, he’s actually an assistant coach, the youngest among them.

LOVE OF THE GAME

Sandro’s passion for basketball started when he would watch his two older brothers play in their grade school and high school varsity basketball games. “Just watching their games and watching them play made me interested to try it out,” he shares. “We would always play basketball every afternoon outside our house, and they would teach me all the basic fundamentals of the game.” Sandro soon discovered that he had a talent for playing basketball and joined his first varsity team when he was in grade 2. Ever since then, Sandro has always been playing in the high-level basketball teams throughout grade school and high school.

In college, he landed a role as a student manager for the Ateneo Blue Eagles, a position he held for all four years he was in college. Sandro said that it was his dream as a kid to play for the Blue Eagles but wasn’t tall or slim enough. But he didn’t give up and instead applied for and got the position of student manager. As a student manager, Sandro described the role as “being an extension of the coaching staff.” He explains, “We would organize the team during practices by assigning the players to their groups, having the balls and equipment ready for the next drill, collecting analytical data for the coaches during practices and games, and many more. Our role was to make the team as efficient as possible.”

Sandro’s time with the Blue Eagles was an eventful one, to say the least, as this was when Ateneo won three UAAP men’s basketball championships in a row. “Being part of the team was an amazing experience. I’ve won three championships with the team, and it opened doors for me, not just in basketball, but life as well through the relationships and friendships built with the management, players, utility staff, and coaching staff.”

JOINING GILAS PILIPINAS

Being part of Gilas Pilipinas is no joke, even if you’re not a player. As the men’s national basketball team, only the best of the best from around the country are asked and invited to be part of it. For such a prestigious organization, the way Sandro joined Gilas Pilipinas could be described as definitely not grand. “I was walking to class one morning, and I suddenly received a text from our team manager asking for my passport details and ID photo. He then sent a follow-up message that I’ll be the video coordinator and statistician for the team in the upcoming FIBA Asia Qualifiers that time.”

To be invited to join a national team like Gilas Pilipinas like that could make anyone do a double or triple take, and that was no exception for Sandro. “I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT. I had to read the message like five times just to make sure I read it right. A 20-year-old who hasn’t even graduated that time to be part of the Gilas Pilipinas coaching staff? I was not expecting that. I had the biggest smile no one could wipe off the whole day.”

Sandro specifically points out when the Philippines defeated Korea in the 2013 FIBA Asia Cup as the moment that made him want to be part of Gilas Pilipinas. “That time, I really told myself that I will be part of Gilas. So, words really couldn’t describe what I felt when I was officially a part of it.”

LIFE IN GILAS PILIPINAS

Technically, Sandro’s official title in Gilas Pilipinas is video coordinator and statistician. As a video coordinator, he is in charge of all their viewing sessions. “I edit game/practice footage to be analyzed by the team or a certain player. I’m also in charge of making the scouting reports against the opposing teams. I watch hours of game/practice footage in order to evaluate player talent, tendencies, and the opposing teams’ preparation and strategies. I then create a written and video scouting report for the team to review and prepare for the upcoming game.” As a statistician, he collects analytical data from the team during their games and practices to help them analyze and evaluate their performance.

Sandro has been with Gilas for many of their games including when they recently competed in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. While they sadly didn’t make it to the Olympics, Sandro said that the experience was still worth it. “It was an amazing and memorable experience for me because you get to see and coach against world-class players like Milos Teodosic, Boban Marjanovic, Nemanja Bjelica, Nico Mannion, and a lot more. Before I was playing against them in video games, but now I’m coaching against them. What also popped out from that experience was, during the lockdown back in 2020, I was actually studying some plays of Coach Igor Kokoskov, who’s the Head Coach of Serbia, not knowing that I was actually going to make a scouting report against him a year later. It was a pretty surreal and coincidental feeling.”

He continues, “Also, just being there and representing the Philippines felt great. It’s always a privilege and honor to represent. Our players, even if they’re young, were hungry to prove something not only for them but for what’s in store for Philippine basketball in the near future.”

HIS YOUNG AGE ISN’T A HINDRANCE

At only 22 years old, Sandro is the youngest member of the coaching staff. Most of the time, he works with the other coaches and staff members who are years older than him. Sandro admits that the age difference made him feel awkward around his fellow coaches. “The coaches I’m with are distinguished coaches and they have proven a lot in their coaching careers. Sometimes, I would hesitate to make some suggestions.” Over time though, Sandro has learned to be more comfortable around them. “After spending months with them though, I’m really more comfortable with them. We exchange conversations a lot and I’m just trying to dissect their minds. Aside from conversations, we exchange laughs A LOT.”

At the end of the day, even if he isn’t a player, he still finds being part of Gilas Pilipinas a huge honor. “It’s an honor and a privilege but it’s also a tough task. It’s a good thing that we have a coaching staff with more than 150 years of basketball experience, so it’s also a blessing to be learning from them. There’s a lot of learning involved and I try to raise myself to a high standard because this is the national team.”

With his current career and passion for sports, you would think that his course in college reflected, but he actually graduated with a degree in Communication. But for Sandro, he doesn’t see what he’s doing now as a big shift from what he learned in college. “I don’t think I veered away from my course since there’s a lot of video editing involved and I took production classes back in college. Also, my approach in making a scouting report is like journalism or telling a story. I try my best to explain how the other team plays and what their strategies are.” And for him, he’s always seen himself having a career like this since 2nd-year of college.

A CONSTANT LEARNING EXPERIENCE

As an assistant coach on Gilas, Sandro enjoys the constant learning experience and he knows there’s always more to learn. “It’s a never-ending learning experience. I guess in coaching, with all the coaches, players, and experiences on and off the court you encounter, you become a student of the game and in life as well. I also love having to develop that passion and find a purpose with that passion. That passion for me is to help players achieve their maximum potential on and off the court. At the same time, find my maximum potential as a coach and as a person too. For me, it’s not always how far the sport can take you, but how far you can take the sport in life.”

Of course, in the position Sandro is in, he expressed how he does feel the weight and pressure to do well. But not because he’s young, but because he’s part of a national team. “We are representing the country and my standards have to be high in everything I do. But the pressure just pushes me to stay focused and to do my job well.” He also says that the long days can be tiring and since he’s in a bubble, he doesn’t get to see his family often. But, he adds, “It’s always fulfilling to see the players learning and becoming better players. It’s also very fulfilling to see them apply what they learned in games.”

Sandro credits his time as a student manager for the Ateneo Blue Eagles as something that helped him prepare for the role he is in now. “Being a student-manager for four years really molded me to become a coach just by observing and understanding the players and coaches day in and day out.” It also helps that some of the players in Gilas right now are players Sandro used to work with in Ateneo and the current coach of Gilas Pilipinas is Coach Tab Baldwin, the same coach of the Blue Eagles during Sandro’s time in Ateneo. “I’ve been under Coach Tab and his system for five years now and the transition to Gilas was relatively easy for me.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR GILAS PILIPINAS AND SANDRO

These days, Sandro is continuously working with the team to improve their game. Previously, Gilas was supposed to fly out to Indonesia for the FIBA Asia Cup, but that has since been moved to July 2022 due to COVID-19. But that hasn’t stopped Sandro and the rest of Gilas from getting better and better every day. “We will be going up against tough and great teams as well, so it’s hard to say what our chances will be. Right now, I think we’re just trying to focus on what’s next for the team and that is the next practice. We just focus on the process of getting better each and every day leading up to the tournament. By doing that and embracing the process, the results will just follow and hopefully, it will be good.”

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As for Sandro, he says that coaching is something that he finds more appealing as a future for him but still has that interest to play. “Just being around the sport either coaching or playing gives me so much joy.” And while a career in sports is something Sandro does see himself maintaining in the future, he’s also open to striking out in other fields. “I also want to have expertise other than sports like business, agriculture, or whatever field that strikes my interest. I want to see how far my horizon can go and not just put my head in one basket.”

Finally, this is his message to all the Gilas Pilipinas fans and supporters: “To all the Gilas fans, thank you so much for your support. Thank you for staying up and for watching our games kahit umaabot na ng 4:00 AM. Ramdam namin lahat ng suporta niyo at patuloy kami lalaban para sa bayan!”

He ends, “To my family and friends, thank you for being there and for inspiring me to pursue my dreams. I wouldn’t be in this position without your love and support. I will continue to make you guys proud.”

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