For a country that claims basketball as national pastime—perhaps a religion, for some—there’s a clear disparity of support for men and women’s basketball.
Guys have a clear path from the collegiate leagues to the D-League to the PBA, to say nothing of emerging arenas like the MPBL and the obsessive attention from fans and media.
Girls, meanwhile, struggle to find opportunities to play after college, receive less media coverage, and have to contend with Legitimate Sports Websites ranking them according to looks rather than skill.
In the ongoing FIBA 3×3 World Cup, Perlas Pilipinas sends the country’s top talent: CEU’s high-scoring Janine Pontejos, and National University’s Afril Bernardino, Gemma Miranda, and Jack Danielle Animam. The NU Lady Bulldogs have won the UAAP championship four years in a row; Animam is reigning MVP, and the Lady Bulldogs bagged the UAAP’s inaugural 3×3 championship last March.
But this time, they’re underdogs, seeded 20th among 20 teams. After Perlas’ first game of the tournament ending in a 21-11 loss to Netherlands, Coach Patrick Aquino says the lack of experience was the deciding factor.
The upside, Aquino says, is that Perlas was able to go head-to-head with their opponents, even taking an early lead before Netherlands found their outside shooting. Pontejos led Perlas with six points. “The effort was there,” Aquino says, “But [there were] first time jitters for everybody. At a competition this big, our girls get jittery and hindi nagagawa ‘yung kailangan natin. They’re more experienced. That’s one thing we lack.”
Their second game against Germany was a closer affair that had the local crowd on its feet, but the Filipino squad still came up short, 12-10. After the buzzer, Animam took to the mic to thank the Pinoy crowd. “I just wanna say thank you for your support. Even though this day is not the one for us, I know we’ll get there,” she said, adding: “Maybe this is the kind of exposure that we need. They should give us a lot more exposure so we learn and we can compete at their level.”
Still, Aquino said: “I’m proud of this team. These girls played their hearts out.”
If he had his way, we’d have semi-professional leagues for women. “I’m longing [for opportunities], not only from the SBP, but after college, there should be a big sponsor that can help us out to have a semi-professional league. I think that would be the first step for competing in this kind of level,” he says.
Let’s be clear: There’s no lack of talent, but we’ll need more opportunities and support to develop that talent if we want to compete globally.
“Give us a chance,” Aquino asks basketball organizers and corporate sponsors. “These girls are working hard. They’re trying to prove themselves. And I know they can be at that level in the future.” And how can the average Filipino basketball fan do their part?
“Watch our games. It’s that simple.”
Photos from Mia Montayre and FIBA.com