EWON Arayi holds the distinction of being on the current Philippine women’s basketball team for the longest time since she first made it in 2007 for the SEABA team handled by my old firend and former PBA cager Fritz Gaston.
Although at 31, she is at a crossroads of sorts between full time coaching and suiting up for the national squad.
Ewon is a half Filipino, half Nigerian as her mother hails from Pangasinan while her father is a policeman in Nigeria who studied at the Philippine College of Criminology before Ewon was born.
But she has opted for full Filipino citizenship and considers herself a Filipina, period. She was encouraged by an uncle who played basketball to get into the game as she used to tag along with her uncle when she was four years old.
She first played organized basketball in Pangasinan but after finishing high school there, she was offered to try out for a slot in Adamson where she became part of two champion teams in the UAAP in 2003-04 under Coach Vega.
Ewon remembers that it was at the tryout that she met Asi Taulava at the gym and he gave her encouragement to realize her dreams in life.
She also had good words for Fritz whom she felt played no favorites when he was handling the national squad and gave her playing time even as a rookie, specializing in defense.
Well, Fritz was a defensive player during his prime so it comes as no surprise for me.
In her last stint with the Philippine squad, Ewon was supposed to suit up for the last SEABA tournament in Malaysia a few months ago but contracted dengue and did not recover in time to play for the team.Although she joined the team to Malaysia and was equally happy with her teammates when the Philippines emerged champion even if her role was to be a cheerer for her teammates.
But then it is not really her credentials or accomplishments as a player that impressed me. It was her desire to give back to the game that shaped her into what she is now, and enabled her to finish Banking & Finance in Adamson, but rather what is doing to promote Philippine women's basketball, a dream that her driving force in her efforts to organize women's basketball leagues here.
It is a fact that after college, local women players have nowhere to go unlike in men's basketball, and this is one reason why the women's of the game has not developed side by side with men's basketball.
Ewon was looking at the Women’s National Basketball Association ( WNBA ) as a model and she firmly believed that given the push, private companies will see that there is promise in women's basketball, that there are a lot of female players just waiting for that chance to continue playing the game beyond college.
That is why she was happy that the PBA itself has already recognized women's basketball, even if just as 3 on 3 tournament, having held already three side tournaments with the PBA teams drafting from the best players available. So far, Global Port, NLEX, and Blackwater have won their share of titles in this side tournament of the professional league.
It was in 2014 when Ewon, with nothing to bank on except her own resources and passion for the game, first organized the Pinay Ballers' League ( PBL), a no frills basketball tournament exclusively for women and she even had different divisions one for aspirants and one for elite players or those who have played in UAAP. So far, teams from the Philippine Army, Philippine Navy, Air Force, De La Salle, and a group of UAAP alumni have joined this category while some companies support teams in the aspirants, a lot of players pool their resources and without any corporate support, pay their own entry fees just to play.
She is also experimenting with an Open format where aspirants are joined by two elite players.This year, Ewon went further with the Philippine Collegiate League, exclusively for school based-teams .
I went to La Consolacion in Mendiola last Sunday as Ewon had the opening of the PBL and as I said, it was a no frills tournament, no opening ceremonies, with the two teams seeing action in the first game, Phoenix and Flashback, simply warming up, then start playing when the horn sounded to start the game.
Ewon admits that with very limited support from the outside, she struggles at times, relying only on entry fees to fund the operations of the tournament, even advancing her own money at times and not receiving any pay at all.
Her priority is to pay off everything first before she would even think of getting an allowance for herself or reimbursement for her expenses.
And she is happy that she is able to work with her commissioner Cay Lim and two others to continue the tournaments.
And maybe taking notice of the PBL when it first emerged, other people followed with their leagues like the Liga Filipina, Liga Manila, and the Next 5 Hoops, she welcomes them but thinks it would be good to consider uniting the different organizers' efforts and come up with a unified league for women's basketball.
I was able to talk to one player at the venue last Sunday, Kara Santos, who used to play for college intrams in UST and made the observation that for the last two years, indeed, women basketball players here have had more opportunities to play their favorite game beyond college, citing the entry of PBA in women's basketball too as one proof.
On the side, Ewon also conducts basketball clinics for kids wherever and whenever possible, again, looking at is her contribution to women's basketball and not as a business venture.
My promise to her, I would extend help in whatever way I can for I am also someone who recognizes what sports has done for me, not as an athlete but as a chronicler of sports.
Definitely, it will be an uphill battle for Ewon with her tournaments but you have to give it to this Filipina, she has put her money where her mouth is, and instead of just seeing what is wrong with sports here, has decided to do something about it with no thoughts of making money out of it.