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Gilas Dream in the Time of COVID

Camille Clarin writes from the heart and shares her thoughts on her Gilas dream.

WORDS by Camille Clarin

How am I going to prepare for a tournament that’s a month away after not playing basketball for two years? 

That was easily my first thought when I got the call-up to play for Gilas Women at the FIBA Asia Cup. 

Was I going to have to practice three times a day to make up for the awful government response to COVID that prevented me from being on the court? 

That was the second thought. The answer to that: most likely.

When I got word that I was part of Gilas, I was back home in Canada. I was so overwhelmed with stress that I didn’t have the chance to celebrate something I’d been waiting for for the last eight years. 

That’s the thing with this pandemic, it took so much from all of us—time, opportunities, people.

When you finally reach what seems like the end, the light at the end of the tunnel, you can’t help but still feel surrounded by darkness. 

Don’t get me wrong, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity. I finally reached the goal I set for myself. It’s just…why did it have to be in the worst situation possible?

Why did something I work so hard for come at a time when I was most unprepared. It’s weird how things work out that way, but everything happens for a reason, right?

I haven’t been able to be with a team for two years and this was finally my chance to feel like a part of something again. If that meant cutting my summer short, flying 16 hours to quarantine for 10 days, then going straight to a bubble, then why not? This was my dream, something to finally look forward to. I wasn’t going to let COVID get in the way of that, that was for sure.

When I heard, the teammate I first reached out to was my OG, Angel Surada. We shared the same struggle of not being in Manila, so traveling to the bubble and the fear of getting COVID was our biggest issue. 

We were also hesitant because the plans weren’t very organized and there would be a lot of sacrifices we’d have to make if the plans were to fall apart. My parents were willing to take the risk and let me go, but sadly Angel’s situation was different. 

That’s the reality of playing basketball during COVID, but I hope to play with her again soon.

Then I found out that Jack Animam won’t be part of the team. I was heartbroken. I didn’t get to play with her in the UAAP championship and now I can’t share the court with her on basketball’s biggest stage. 

Jackie is more than just her buckets and boards, she’s a force of energy and endless positivity. She’s not afraid to call people out and I just miss being with her. Hopefully, the basketball gods align us again soon because I miss that gentle giant.

But even without Angel and Jackie, there are good things about this team. I’m excited for the new batch of rookies. We’ve been in the Gilas system for a while now so it’s awesome to see us finally get the chance to play on the big stage. 

It’s also super cool because they’re the girls I started my Gilas journey with, so to be able to move up with them is something I cherish. 

The start of the bubble was hard AF, but it was an amazing feeling. To be with a team again, to feel the pressure of an upcoming tournament. To be surrounded by such motivated, talented individuals—I can’t help but feel blessed to be put in this situation. 

Regardless of all the nonsense going on in the world and our country especially, as an athlete, all you want is to throw yourself into your sport. My teammates and I finally have that chance again. 

That’s why you can always feel a great amount of energy on the court. Regardless of how tired we are at the end of the day, the opportunity to be in a bubble and prepare for a huge tournament is all the motivation we need to bring it every day.

All things considered, I have a lot of motivation to keep me going. First and foremost, I’m doing it for the people who support me day in and day out — my family. As sad as they were that I had to leave them again, they were happier that I was able to get back on the court to do what I love. So whenever I feel like I can’t keep going, I just think of their sacrifices and all they’ve done to help me get to where I’m at.

Then of course, there’s Shaun. I’ve had some rough days in the bubble, but he’s always right there to pick me up and dish out some much-needed motivation. He believes in me so much and always reminds me to stay positive. That guy is my teammate in life and love.

But the biggest factor that’s keeping me motivated is the young female ballers of this country. A lot of them are still stuck at home without the opportunity to play, some even losing the motivation to play at all. I hope that when they see us play on the court, we help keep their spark alive. We remind them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, they just have to make the journey.

The Philippines has gone through some really rough patches during this pandemic, but our nation’s athletes have given us so much joy and inspiration. 

We hope to do the same.

Going into the tournament, it’s an all-or-nothing mentality for me. I’m gonna leave it all on the court every time I get the chance because this opportunity can’t be wasted. Who knows when I’ll be able to play basketball again, especially at this stage. I’ve represented the country before, but this time it’s so much different. A ‘next time’ isn’t guaranteed.

It could’ve been any other player in my position, but I got the spot. So it’s on me to go out there and rep all the Filipina ballers well and prove to the world: we deserve to be up there with the best.