This blogger’s recent trip to Baguio along with the Alaska JrNBA/JrWNBA held at Benguet State University in Baguio underlined the massive and deeply-rooted appeal of Filipino basketball among Filipinos.
Young and old, male or female, rich or poor, tall or short – there is no distinction in the world of hoops and balls. Watching kids as young as nine, barely as tall as the basketball bins they are trying to reach – I can’t help but wonder if James Naismith had an inkling of the profound impact of basketball to a nation where the minimum requirement to play ball (i.e. Height) does not even apply.
In this country, it’s the passion that counts. And that — and a whole lot of guts — spelled the difference to these kids.
Meet Alexandra: Basketball’s Little Contradiction
It’s easy to dismiss Alexandra Fontanes as a kid that was asked to accompany an elder sibling during the try-outs. I first saw her on the sidelines, clutching the arm of her older sister as they watch the other kids who were also tying out. But then, you will notice that like other kids, she was lined up along the other girls trying out for a post. Then, she starts dribbling, darting easily from drills to drills – her face a mixture of determination and innocence.
And yes, this girl doesn’t attend practice drills outside the Alaska camp. Her teacher is her grand mother, a registered coach who instilled with Alexandra the importance of hard work and practice.
“Mahilig talaga sila mag-practice sa bahay,” said Ms. Jennifer Dindin, who is the aunt of Alexandra’s mother and serves at the de-facto coach. Using an old basketball, a makeshift ring and the rudimentary rules, Dindin molds the young girl on the rules of basketball.
The grade 5 elementary student at Pugis Elementary School was first spotted by Alaska Jr WNBA coaches and bloggers a year ago. At age 8, Alexandra already displayed her potential in a game that often utilized brashness and height – two things that the girl did not possess.
Alexandra Fontanes is this series’ little miss contradiction.
During the practice games, while girls run and hustle across the court, the little girl shuffles slowly – sometimes too slow – yet focused on the girl assigned for her to guard. Playing the role of point guard, Alexandra follows her duties to the core: attempting steals, dutifully doing her pass – at her own pace and at her own time.
“Gusto ko po talaga ng basketball. Kahit maliit po Ako or babae Ako. Gusto ko patunayan na Kaya ko,” she mumbles. In the end, Alexandra was not included in the final selection. Still, let’s give her time – she is after all, only nine years old and still have a lot of years ahead of her to continuously surprise us.
Christian Calub: Enjoying the game
Trying to pin down Christian for an interview is like trying to pin down Justin Bieber – he is surrounded by friend his age, competitor in spirit for the limited slots at hand at the end of the day and boys, when thrown together, can be a bit loud and boisterous.
I asked why he wanted to play ball: he mentioned that it’s something he always wanted to do, something that came natural for him or his friends. Like him, her elder sister played ball and was there to support her younger brother by playing the photographer.
In a country where young boys learn to play pick up basketball the minute the are allowed to venture outside the house, Christian serves as the testament of the Fillno’s devotion to the games. With no sob story in his pocket, the young man relied on talent and sheer will to each the next stage of the competition.
The 14 year old high school student of SLU- Laboratory High School was one of the top contenders for the post but came up a bit short to be included among the selected players.
In spite of this, the young man vowed to keep on flying. Like Alaska, like passion, determination and hardwork – he admits that it’s the love of the game that keeps him going.
Rae Jemima Caba: A dream fulfilled
Jemima knew how it was to be in the sidelines. Last year, she joined the regional selection and was included as one of the reserves. Jemima never saw action at the National Training Camp.
“Inisip na Lang namin noon na may isa pa naman syang taon. Ang sabi ko, huwag ka panghinaan ng loob at mag-try na Lang ulit,” said mommy Jean Caba, holding to Jemima’s little sister who was also dribbling a ball – oblivious to her sister’s success.
Influenced by a basketball aficionado dad (who was at the venue, proudly smiling from ear to ear) and a hoopster elder brother, it is bound that talented Jemima will soon follow the footsteps of her “idols” – her papa and kuya.
Jemima acknowledges that she wants to prove that girls can be good basketball players too – after all, they also display the same drive and determination to succeed.
As for Jean, like any mother watching her daughter soar for the first time, she is ready to let her daughter go to Manila and try to fulfill her dreams of reaching this year’s All-Stars.
Alexandra, Christian and Jemima are just three of the stories we’ve heard while in Baguio.
The registration for this year yielded more than 600 kids – that’s 600 names and 600 basketball dreams. Their paths might have converged and went on to different directions – some will go to Manila to fight for their place for the All Star; some will come back and try again next year while some will went on to hone their skills through pick up games and local sports competitions.
One thing is certain, for two days – more than 600 dreams were given a shot to make it a reality. And in that two days, somehow – one of the country’s future basketball super stars has begun its flight.