“Five-six…’pag may sapatos,” jokes Emman Monfort.
Monfort’s in the dugout of the NLEX Road Warriors, readying himself for yet another game. The 28-year-old’s teammates tower over him. Next to built-like-a-tree-trunk guys like Asi Taulava, it’s even more apparent that Monfort doesn’t have the typical look you’d associate with a pro baller. And yet he’s been in the PBA for six years—longer than some taller players have lasted in the pros.
“Hindi ko naman in-expect, sa totoo lang,” he admits. “Dati gusto ko lang makapag-PBA. Tapos noong una, sabi ko sa sarili ko okay na akong maka-two years. Tapos noong naka-two years ako, sabi ko baka kayang mag-four. Ngayon six na.”
Monfort adds: “My biggest motivation as a PBA player is we should influence a lot of kids, and people in general, to believe na hindi porket maliit ka, you can never be successful. It’s not true,” he adds. “It’ll take a lot of smart work, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of prayers, pero kaya.”
As a kid in Iloilo, Monfort’s parents never told him that he was too short to be a baller. They simply encouraged him to pursue basketball and take it as far as he could. After studying psychology under Ateneo de Manila University’s Interdisciplinary Studies program, it’s not lost on Monfort that not being exposed to those doubts is what gave him the confidence to actually run towards basketball at full speed.
“I was quick to mature when I was a kid. Parang sinabi ko sa sarili ko, if you want something you have to get it. You have to work. Kung gusto ko maging PBA player, I have to push myself,” he recalls. “Parents ko rin naman sabi, bakit hindi, free tuition yan! It can be a way to go to a big school without my parents paying tuition, kasi magiging scholar. And ‘yung education na ‘yun, madadala na habang-buhay.”
At Ateneo, Monfort combined his psychology classes with courses from the communication department. His favorites were film appreciation classes under the late Fr. Nick Cruz, who became a close friend and mentor to the player. Sports opened a door to education, which then opened Monfort’s life to possibilities he might not have had otherwise. All because he did not let expectations about his height hold him back.
Monfort knew he had to pay it forward.
For the past five years, Monfort has been sponsoring and coaching basketball clinics for kids. “I’m very happy na kahit papano, I get to inspire kids kasi maliliit din naman tayong mga Pinoy eh. I really love kids and it’s very pleasing to see them kasi ‘yung bata, hindi nag gi-give up,” he shares. “You always want to tell them that they need to pursue their passion, whether it’s basketball, school, or anything in life. Marami kasing tao nado-down mabilis. But that should not hinder them from believing na they can be successful.”
While Monfort holds clinics in Metro Manila, it’s the ones back home in Iloilo that hold a piece of his heart. “Siyempre kasi, galing akong province. Importante na I go to barangays lalo na ‘yung mga walang programs talaga, ‘yung mga hindi mapupuntahan. ‘Yun ‘yung pinakaimportante sa akin kasi they almost have nothing. You have to give back din naman because God gave you this career so you have to give back to someone else,” he says.
Monfort carries that attitude into each NLEX game as well. “Palagi kong iniisip ‘yung mga batang nanonood,” he says of repping short guys everywhere. “Gusto ko sana kapag mapanood nila ako, maisip nilang pwede nilang i-pursue ‘yung pangarap nila.”
His advice for short ballers? Lock down your foundational skills, pay extra attention to conditioning, and most of all, show coaches how teachable you can be. “If you’re smaller, you have to double your efforts, and just a lot of prayers siguro. You have to believe also in God, that God has a plan for each and every one,” Monfort says.
He adds, “There’s this word na tinuturo sa Ateneo, “Magis”—something more. It’s about goal-setting. You have to set goals for yourself para in the end, that goal goes higher and higher and higher. Then as a whole, you get to look back and magugulat ka na lang how far you’ve come.”
Nobody can say for certain what the future holds for any player. what accomplishments or challenges lie ahead. One thing’s for certain, though: Emman Monfort is bigger than his body.
All photos courtesy of NLEX Road Warriors