THE UAAP remains to be the major women’s basketball tournament in the land even with the advent of commercial leagues whose future remain unsure with the lack of the necessary support to sustain them on a long term basis.
However, it is also a fact that UAAP women’s basketball does not receive the same support as in men’s basketball in terms of media exposure both in print and broadcast media, and we all know that any sporting event here will always need all the media exposure it can get to be attractive to sponsors who in turn can spell the difference between success and failure.
I have been both at the Mall of Asia Arena and Araneta Coliseum to watch women’s basketball, both involving the University of the East Lady Warriors with whom I have been involved as a pro bono team building mentor with its head coach Ai Lebornio, for me, one of the better female coaches who understand the secret in developing a team, with no short cuts. And she has a track record to match as the now defunct Lady Pirates of Lyceum won five straight WNCAA titles under her mentorship.
And in UE , which she joined 4 years ago, the team had a previous pathetic record, she is duplicating it in terms of developing a team from scratch, on her first year, the team won two games, one of them a forfeited game, the following year, if I recall right, she won 3 or 4 games, and last year, UE surprised everyone by barging into the Final 4, it was in the late 70’s that the team did the same.
Now UE is in second place behind defending champion National University, UE totes a 3-1 record while NU remains unscathed with three straight wins, in fact the team has won 36 games in a row, at least as of this writing, De La Salle University is at 2-1, Adamson University, with a new coach, is at 2-2, Ateneo de Manila is next at 1-2, same as FEU and UST and UP which hugs the cellar with four straight losses.
When I watched at MOA the first time, with UE playing UP, it was the first game and aside from the small group of parents watching their kids play, or not play, and the players who would be playing in the next game, the cavernous arena was practically empty of people, though as far as these young basketball players are concerned, particularly the rookies and sophomores, just the fact that they are playing in a world class facilty like the Arena, it is enough for them.
Last Sunday, I went in turn to Araneta with UE playing FEU, it was the same story, though La Salle which played NU in the first game, had more team supporters and even a cheering squad, to no avail as they lost to the Lady Bulldogs, 59-72 while the Lady Warriors posted its third staright win after an opening day loss by 4 points to the Lady Bulldogs, earlier, UE blasted UST by 17 points, beat UP by 18, and last Sunday, struggled in the first three and a half quarters before getting its act together and pulled off a 55-45 victory over FEU.
And coach Ai was still not happy with the way her players played as she was very emphatic about telling them that after three years, the players can do better than the way they played, I agree because I have seen this team 4 years ago and it was a real struggle for the coaching staff as the players’ skills’ level was still on the low side, but now it is a different story.
I have not seen all the teams play but offhand, the battle would be for the other three Final 4 slots as I would already concede one slot to NU, behind national player April Bernardino, the reigning MVP of the league and might end up duplicating her feat this season. The teams that should be contenders would be UE, even if it lost Mythical Five member last year Cherry Ano-os for disciplinary reason, another reason why I admire coach Ai, Ano-0s has transferred to NU but needs to meet residency requirements to play, De La Salle even with the graduation of another Mythical Five member Ara Abaca, now with the national team Adamson, a scrappy squad I would say, and Ateneo de Manila though its main player, Danica Jose has also graduated. UST lost its center and Mythical Five member Maica Cortes to graduation and will need time to develop anew its core group of players,, same with FEU, and more so with UP.
The Lady Warriors play Ateneo for its next game, the same team that prevented them from a podium finish last year and so I know that would serve as a big motivation for the team, now led by former rookie of the year Lovejoy Sto. Domingo, Eunique Chan, and Ruth Tacula, a player I would remember as the one who wanted to return home to the province after just a few days after being in Manila four years ago.
I just wish that women’s basketball gets its share of write-ups and stories, and in the same breath, I wish our Perlas team the best of luck as it plays in Malacca, Malaysia in the SEABA, and I am happy too that my favorite female player Chack Cabinbin made it to the roster to SEABA, this girl can really play basketball, believe me and she showed that when she played for coach Ai in Lyceum.
And even as I am writing this, the night before, I got an update from colleague Rey Joble who is covering the SEABA tournament about our first game results there, winning over Singapore and guess who top scored for Perlas, none other than Chack, in fact I messaged her that after this, she would understand better why Ai and I had been pushing her to play for the national team, now she does. Our next game against Laos should be a walk over with Malaysia and Thailand as the two teams that can match up with us.
And if we win the gold in Malaysia, I hope it spurs women’s basketball here.
By the way, I just would like to call the attention of one of the assistant coaches of FEU during that UE-FEU game, I will not name him though I am sure he would know and so with other people who know him, he was giving specific instruction to one of the players to intentionally elbow her opponent and that he would take responsibility for it.
Now mind you, I do not know the guy and he does not know me, but what I know is the sports is supposed to teach the proper values to young athletes and schools in particular, should bear this responsibility more than any one else and I do not think telling a player to intentionally hit another player on the court is something that should be taught to players, play tough defense, yes, no problem, but hitting others with full intention, now that is another story altogether.
I know for a fact that there was a UAAP school that replaced its coach in the junior division when the same thing happened and I agree that schools should draw the line in such matters of instilling discipline on both players and coaches.