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Alyssa Rodriguez’s Journey from Keilor Thunder to Gilas Pilipinas

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From her early days playing interschool sports to becoming a standout player for the Keilor Thunder Basketball Club and earning a spot as a point guard on the prestigious Gilas Pilipinas U18 Women’s Basketball Team, Filipino-Australian Alyssa Kae Rodriguez’s story is one of passion, perseverance, and triumph. This 5 ft 9-inch point guard’s dedication to the game, with the unwavering support of her family and mentors, has propelled her to impressive heights both on and off the court. In this exclusive interview with The Philippine Times (TPT), Alyssa opens up about her early life, the challenges she faced, her Filipino heritage, and her dreams for the future. Let’s find out more about Alyssa’s basketball journey.

Early Life and Background 

 TPT: Can you tell us about your early years and what got you into basketball? 

Alyssa: I’ve always been around basketball since a young age, but I only got into it in grade six when I picked it for interschool sports. I enjoyed the game and the competitive environment so much, and joined a domestic team soon after. I then tried out for my local rep team and joined a sport academy school, and am now playing for Gilas Pilipinas U18. 

Who were your biggest inspirations growing up, both in basketball and in life? 

My family are definitely people who inspire me in both basketball and life. Knowing that I have people supporting me and sacrificing their time to take me to trainings and watch my games, drives me to perform. Knowing that I’m a role model for my younger brother Aiden, is another aspect that pushes me to be a better basketball player and individual. A family friend of mine, Jaz Salon, was also a big inspiration in my basketball career. Watching her play Nationals in 2021 opened my eyes to a whole new level of competition and motivated me to really dedicate my time to this sport. Jaz, her dad Mic Salon and brother Jalen Salon, have played a major role in my basketball journey, coached my bottom age under 18s season, and provided me with so much guidance and support.

How has your Filipino heritage influenced your basketball career and personal life?  

Basketball is a really big aspect amongst the Filipino community. Being surrounded by so many others who love the sport and are constantly backing me up, has helped me in so many ways. My Filipino heritage has also allowed me to play for Gilas Pilipinas and while this journey has just begun, it’s already opened so many opportunities. 

Basketball Journey 

Can you describe your journey in basketball from your early days to joining the Keilor Thunder Basketball Club?

I first tried out for Keilor in my bottom age 16s season and got cut. I didn’t even make the 5s team. I spent the next year training with my coach Mic Salon almost every day and the following season I made the 16.2s where we went on to win a championship in VJL1. I made the 18.2s in my bottom age year where we came runners-up in the Victorian Championship Reserve, and am currently playing for the 18.1s as well as a development player for our youth league team. 

What are some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced in your basketball career, and how did you overcome them? 

Having started playing so late put me at a disadvantage, as the majority of the players had been playing rep from early on and they all had quite a few years of experience (ahead of) me. Despite this, I continued to put my head down, work hard, and trust the process. I also learnt that 90% of the game is confidence and I’d only achieve my goals if I truly believed in myself and trusted the work I’d put in. 

 How do you balance your time between training, matches, and personal life? 

It’s honestly quite hard to balance everything with the amount of trainings and games I’ve got going on, and sometimes that means sacrificing social events. However, my family and friends are pretty flexible and understanding, and we always find ways to squeeze in things into our schedules. 

Achievements and Highlights 

What does it mean to you to be selected for the Gilas Pilipinas U18 Women’s Basketball Team? 

Being selected is honestly a dream. I don’t think I’ve fully processed it yet. Last June we watched the Gilas Pilipinas Women play against our Keilor NBL1 team, and then in July, we watched them in the FIBA Asia Cup in Sydney. I loved their play style and watching them compete on the court. Never would I have thought I’d be repping the Gilas uniform, be playing under the same coaching staff and training with the same players less than a year later. It’s an honour to be able to represent the flag, and I’m excited for what’s to come with this team. 

 Can you share your experience playing in the U18 Women’s Asia Cup SEABA Qualifiers in Thailand? 

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 Playing in the SEABA Qualifiers was a great experience. We swept the tournament, going 3-0 and winning each of the games by a decent margin. Our team gelled really well and it was so enjoyable being amongst such a great group of people. I think this was good preparation for the FIBA Asia Cup and is truly only a glimpse of what this team can achieve.  

What are some of your proudest moments on the court? 

Simply stepping onto the court in the Gilas uniform was a proud and memorable moment. Being able to represent the country while knowing you have so many people watching from all over the globe and supporting you, is a surreal feeling.

Training and Preparation 

What does a typical training session look like for you? 

Training always looks different. For team trainings, it’s always a mixture of shooting, concepts, revising our sets and gameplay. For my individual sessions, drills vary from shooting, finishing, ball handling, speed/agility and sessions in the weight room. 

How do you prepare mentally and physically for important games? 

In order to mentally prepare for games I like doing a mixture of meditation and visualisation, while incorporating lots of positive self talk. While getting ready, I blast music on my speaker to hype myself up, and I always make sure that I’m hydrated and have a good pre-game meal. Once I get to the stadium, I always foam roll, activate using bands, and get in a good warm up. 

What role does your coaching staff play in your development as a player? 

My coaches have played significant roles in my development as a player. Mic Salon has worked with me right from the beginning, and been there with me throughout every milestone I’ve hit. He’s offered his advice and shared his experiences which helped my game grow tremendously. Megan Jarvis my current rep and youth league coach, has taught me so much about the game and instilled so much confidence. She’s constantly pushing me to improve and has believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. More recently, Coach Pat, Coach Julie, the entire Gilas coaching staff and all of the Ates from the women’s team have helped me prepare for the SEABA Qualifiers, and I’m sure they’ll continue to show their support as we prepare for our upcoming tournament in China.

Alyssa Rodriguez    PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Sport Association of Thailand Kuk | Thew Photography
Alyssa Rodriguez PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Sport Association of Thailand Kuk | Thew Photography

Team Dynamics 

How would you describe the camaraderie and dynamics within the Gilas Pilipinas U18 team? 

The Gilas Pilipinas U18 team is truly special. We’ve managed to build strong team chemistry within such a short timeframe and we get along extremely well off the court too. Despite coming from different parts of the world, we complement each other really well and support each other’s playing styles. 

What are some memorable moments with your teammates, both on and off the court? 

While we’ve only been together for a short period of time, so many memories have been made. Of course sweeping the tournament and holding up our ticket to China was an unforgettable achievement, but it’s all the little things that complete the experience. From hanging out in each other’s rooms to the plane ride, making viral TikToks and eating countless servings of mango sticky rice, the most treasured memories were made.

Alyssa Kae Rodriguez  up against Thailand  PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Sport Association of Thailand Kuk | Thew Photography
Alyssa Kae Rodriguez up against Thailand PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Sport Association of Thailand Kuk | Thew Photography
Gila Pilipinas U18 qualifies for Asian Cup in Shenzen China   PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Sport Association of Thailand Kuk | Thew Photography
Gila Pilipinas U18 qualifies for Asian Cup in Shenzen China PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Sport Association of Thailand Kuk | Thew Photography

Goals and Future Plans 

What are your short-term and long-term goals in basketball? 

My focus right now is to win the upcoming National Junior Classics with my rep team, and then to win the FIBA Asia Cup and promote the Philippines to Division A. Long-term, I aspire to play college basketball, NBL1 and for the Gilas Women’s Team.  

How do you envision your career progressing in the next few years? 

Throughout this journey so far, I’ve learnt that things don’t always go according to your plan or in the order you envision it. All you can do is continue to work hard and trust the process; from there everything will fall into place. 

What are your aspirations beyond basketball? 

While I’m not 100% sure, I know I want to study a course in the Sport Science/Nutrition field. 

Advice and Inspiration 

What advice would you give to young athletes, especially those from multicultural backgrounds, who aspire to play basketball at a high level? 

My advice would be to have confidence in yourself, but do the work to back it up. Know that challenges and mistakes are inevitable, but it’s the only way to grow. (Also, make sure you get your passport before 16 to be eligible to play for your national team.) 

 How do you stay motivated during tough times or when facing setbacks? 

 During tough times I go back to where I’m most comfortable – training. It allows me to reset, and work towards coming back even stronger. I also constantly remind myself that things have to get hard before they get better, and to just trust the process.  

What message do you have for your fans and supporters who have been following your journey? 

 Thank you. I can’t express that enough. Whether it’s been from day one, or just recently, I’m extremely grateful for the support and I hope that I’m making everyone proud. 

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