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I Speak Mamba: Camille Nolasco stays true to her goal to grow women’s hoops

Waking up at dawn to work out. First in, last out. Playing through an injury. No excuses, no days off. Giving it everything you’ve got. And then giving some more. This is the language of Mamba Mentality. To celebrate Mamba Mentality Week, SLAM Philippines tells the stories of five athletes who have something in common: […]

Waking up at dawn to work out. First in, last out. Playing through an injury. No excuses, no days off. Giving it everything you’ve got. And then giving some more. This is the language of Mamba Mentality.

To celebrate Mamba Mentality Week, SLAM Philippines tells the stories of five athletes who have something in common: they all speak the same language as the legendary Kobe Bryant.

Photo from Camille Nolasco / Illustration by SLAM PH

Three years ago, Camille Nolasco signed up for the Batang PBA tournament. Out of hundreds of participants, she was one of only two girls. At just 12 years old, she had learned to steel herself against the usual trash talk: Go back to the kitchen. Panlalaki lang ito. Tomboy ka ba?

“Ayaw ako bantayan [ng mga boys]. Sabi ko, ‘Bantayan mo ako! Kung gusto niyo, papanisin ko kayo,’” she recalls. She can’t help but compete, and she can’t help but be honest about it as well. “Competitive talaga ako. Ayoko yung minamaliit ako.”

Camille and her Magnolia Hotshots team went on to win the title. The year after, she won with the Alaska Aces. And in 2019, the 15-year-old baller made it a personal three-peat after winning with the Meralco Bolts. Still laughing now?

Photo from Ryan Nolasco

“I’ve always looked up to Kobe and the Mamba Mentality—the desire to be the best,” she says.

Camille’s family didn’t expect her to become a basketball player. They had first pushed her towards tennis, which was no less grueling, but something clicked when she was six years old.

“Nakikita ko sina kuya at tatay ko na naglalaro sa half court. Sumasama ako noon sa kanila kapag may games. Nakikigulo ako, biglang kukunin ko yung bola at titira,” she recalls. “Iba yung pakiramdam, yung gaan kapag basketball yung nilalaro ko.”

When her dad spearheaded the renovation of an abandoned court in their neighborhood, Camille quickly made it her second home. Coaches in the area were surprised to see this young girl, seemingly out of nowhere, crushing the shootouts.

But something was missing: a community. Camille didn’t know Kobe Bryant as a girl dad or as a supporter of the women’s game yet—only as the intense competitor she looked up to. She hadn’t discovered the WNBA, and she didn’t see women’s UAAP games on TV. As far as she was concerned, proving people wrong about women’s basketball was an uphill, lonely battle.

Things changed when, on that same court, Camille met Kate Marcos. “Ate Kate,” as Camille calls her, was playing for Diliman Prep when they met. Over the years, Camille watched Kate join the Enderun Lady Titans and become a key figure in their NAASCU four-peat championship run.

“Siya yung naging idol ko. Sabi ko gusto ko maging katulad niya at mag-varsity,” Camille says. Guided by Kate’s drills and Inspired by watching Kobe’s games, Camille made it to her middle school varsity team.

“Si Kobe yung tipong kahit di na kaya ng katawan niya, di siya susuko. Ginagawa kong inspiration yun to work hard. To be the best is not gonna be easy, but if you want it, you need to work for it, she shares.

What would Kobe do? That question kept her going. “Kunwari nagjo-jogging at pagod na ako, sasabihin ko sa sarili ko, ‘sige ka pag di mo tinapos to, matatalo ka.’ Kailangan ibigay mo lahat para no regrets.”

Photo from Ryan Nolasco

Camille is now a Grade 9 student playing for Miriam College High School. While there were just two girls in the 2017 Batang PBA games, 2018 saw that number grow to five. In 2019, there were seven girls—most of whom were Camille’s teammates from Miriam. The best part, she believes, was that both teams in the 2019 finals had a girl on the team.

“Ang sarap ipagmalaki!” she says with a smile. “I wanna prove them wrong na panlalaki ang basketball. I wanna change their minds.”

But despite her achievements in the Batang PBA, Camille admits that Miriam’s team is an underdog in the high school circle. The favorites tend to be the more established Chang Kai Shek (which produced the NU Lady Bulldogs’ 80-0 graduate Ria Nabalan), La Salle Antipolo, and La Salle Zobel.

“Okay lang naman. Maganda yung samahan namin sa team,” Camille says. “Lumalaban kami kahit underdog.” Her favorite Kobe game comes as no surprise: his final game. “Hindi sila yung leading noong una pero napanalo pa nila, 60 points pa!” she gushes.

In last year’s Women’s Basketball League, their team made it all the way to finals, only to face a team to whom they had lost in the early stages of the competition. “I’m the type of player na ‘pag, natalo iiyak talaga. Tinuruan naman ako ng dad ko paano tumanggap ng pagkatalo pero may feeling na lagi ako nanghihinayang, dapat babawi ako,” she explains.

Camille tells it like it is. Like Kobe, she isn’t one to mince words or hide her ambitions, not one to defuse compliments with false modesty. She wants to win, and she isn’t shy about it: “Sabi ko sa teammates ko, ‘hindi na tayo iiyak sa kanila.’”

“Kahit ngalay na ngalay na yung braso ko, shoot pa rin ako. Kahit gusto nang sumuko yung katawan ko, ako hindi susuko.”

What would Kobe do?

Just like Kobe, they took home the championship.

That same Mamba Mentality has carried her through training during a global pandemic, as well. If anything, she says, home training with her dad has become even more intense these days. “Minsan titira kami ng 500 to 2000 shots tapos grabe, super ngalay na ‘yung braso ko pero kailangan ko isipin na para sa’kin din talaga lahat ‘yon.”

Photo from the Jr. NBA

Over the years, her appreciation for Kobe has taken on a deeper meaning. “Two years ago, napansin ko sa social media yung videos ni Gianna. Nakita ko sobrang supportive ni Kobe, nagco-coach talaga siya ng mga babae, pinapaalam niya sa mundo yung women’s basketball. Sabi ko sa sarili ko, YES! Dumadami na ang nagsta-stand up for women.”

She ate up every Kobe and Gigi video on social media, all the stories of the father-and-daughter power duo, that quote of Gigi saying she would continue Kobe’s legacy. And when social media overflowed with grief on January 26, Camille was overcome.

“Hindi ako makakibo sa school,” she remembers. Gianna’s not much younger than Camille. And with Kobe’s passing, the world didn’t just lose a once-in-a-generation athlete; it lost an advocate for girls like Gigi and Camille.

Eventually, that question returned: What would Kobe do?

“Tapos parang mas ginanahan ako magsumikap pa. Doon talaga nakilala si Kobe, so na-motivate pa ako lalo to work hard.”

These days, Camille continues to work towards playing at the collegiate level. She’s one of the most promising players—male or female—in her age group. She’s also part of the TITAN DVT, a fictitious basketball team composed of players and personalities that share the same values and philosophies of the TITAN Brand both on and off the court.

If our lives are like stones dropping in a still pond, then we never know how far the ripples we leave behind will reach. That Camille got here is a testament to her hard work, but she is also here because of others. Her father, who told her not to listen when men would say “pare, dapat mag-volleyball na lang anak mo.” Her brothers, who attend her games to be ball boys and water boys. Ate Kate, who does drills with her to this day.

The NU Lady Bulldogs and Gilas Pilipinas Women, whose achievements helped her dream higher. The audacity of Gigi to claim a legacy for herself. The honesty of Kobe to pursue his goals unapologetically.

Photo from Ryan Nolasco

Camille has been inspired by so many people, she scarcely realized that she was leaving ripples of her own. “Nagugulat ako, may mga parents na nagme-message sa akin sa social media para sabihing na-iinspire ko mga daughters nila,” she shares. “Sobrang nakaka-flatter, kasi nararamdaman ko na dapat ipagpatuloy ko ginagawa ko.”

It’s so important for our community to support each other. Kasi tayo-tayo yung magtutulungan. Kung nandoon yung suporta, mas mabibigyan kami ng lakas para makainspire ng younger girls,” Camille says.

“Yung tapang ko, galing din sa mga kapwa naming basketball players na babae. Tayo-tayong mga babae ang magbibigay ng lakas sa isa’t isa. Kapag dumadami tayo, mas matatanggap din nila tayo,” she explains. Her advice to fellow female ballers?

“Always work hard and push yourself. Don’t let what others think stop you from doing what you love. This is a battle that we need to win,” Camille says.

She’s come a long way from being that girl who had to fight for her place on the court. “Siguro naninibago lang talaga yung ibang tao na may babae, pero I was able to earn their respect,” she says. “Honestly, nakakapagod nga na dapat pang i-earn yung respect instead na ibigay na lang. Pero kung ‘yun ‘yung way para baguhin isip nila, kung kailangan kong patunayan sa kanila? Handa akong gawin yun.”

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