Team captain Janine Pontejos ready to guide younger teammates

Gilas Pilipinas Women boast a lineup of savvy veterans and promising rookies who are eager to see action in the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup.

Team captain Janine Pontejos is joined by Gilas core players Afril Bernardino, Khate Castillo, Chack Cabinbin, Clare Castro, Ria Nabalan, Mar Prado, and Andrea Tongco, along with four young standouts in Ella Fajardo, Karl Ann Pingol, Kristine Cayabyab, and Camille Clarin.

“The team is slowly picking up with the system and it’s been great to have a mix of veterans and young bloods in the team because it helps develop the players who are next in line to represent the country,” said head coach Patrick Aquino. 

The team is still relatively young with an average age of 23 years old. A right balance of experience and youth can be beneficial not just for the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup but also for future tournaments. 

“Ngayon kasi halos mga bata na yung kasama namin. The good thing is madali sila nakaka-gets ng sistema namin kasi naglaro na din naman sila ng international sa 3×3,” said Pontejos. “Yung chemistry namin ng mga veteran nandun na kasi alam na namin paano gumalaw isa’t isa, which is importante sa darating na competition.”

The eight veterans were part of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games team that gave the country its very first women’s basketball gold medal. Pontejos, Bernardino, and Castro also suited up for the 3×3 event, in which they also claimed the gold. 

“Dahil isa ako sa ate at veteran sa team itinuturo ko yung experience ko sa laro pagdating sa ganitong competition, like kung paano dumepensa ang kalaban, paano ka malilibre kasi nga ang tatangkad ng kalaban, saka yung patience sa laro,” said Pontejos. “Kapag nagkamali ka, dapat bumawi ka. Lalo kapag di na maka-shoot, eh di sa depensa ka bumawi.”

Pontejos was one of the key contributors in the Philippines’ win during the last iteration of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup against India in September 2019. The dynamic shooter lit the scoreboard for 18 points on 50 percent shooting, including four triples. She also had an all-around game, providing five rebounds, four assists, and three steals in the victory. 

“As a captain, syempre mataas din ang expectation sa akin kasi di lang ako nilagay dito sa posisyon na ‘to ng wala lang. Siguro nakita nila yung potential ko inside,” Pontejos humbly said. “Kaya ako, ibibigay ko lang yung best ko para mapatunayan ko na deserve ko kung nasaan ako ngayon. ‘Di ko rin iniisip na captain ako kasi halos nauna sa akin yung ibang teammate ko, pantay-pantay lang kami. Kung ano ‘yung makakatulong sa team, kahit sino pwede magsalita sa team.”

The young trio of Pingol, Fajardo, and Clarin is also no stranger to international competition. In 2019, they participated in the FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. They went 3-1 in the group phase and finished eighth overall in a field of 20. 

“As one of the younger players, the adjustment process has been difficult but the seniors are so helpful,” shared Clarin. “They always check up on me and never let me feel like an outsider to the team. Honestly, the hardest part of it all is adjusting to playing basketball again after two years.”

The solid mix of veterans and rookies who have all previously represented the country will be a great foundation for the team as they face China, Australia, and Chinese Taipei in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup. 

“I’ve learned to worry less about what my opponents do well and focus more on the things I can control,” Clarin said on what she’s gained from previous competitions. “Having a strong mindset and the ability to focus on the positives is something I’ve been able to develop over the past tournaments so I hope to bring that to the seniors team.”

Gilas will first take on China on September 27 (Philippine time), followed by Australia on September 29, and wraps up the group phase versus Chinese Taipei on September 30.

For more updates on Gilas Women, follow the SBP on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To get the latest information on the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2021, check out the tournament’s official Facebook page.