Sitting inside a restaurant and waiting for her turn at the buffet table as National University celebrated its back-to-back women’s basketball title run Sunday night, Afril Bernardino stared blankly, still trying to soak in the moment.
Even when she is now regarded as one of the best women’s basketball players in the country, Bernardino has never envisioned such scene — not when four years ago, she didn’t even know how to dribble.
“Hindi ako mahilig manood ng basketball,” Bernardino recalled her high school days.
Bernardino was a track and field player in Cainta, Rizal back then, before transferring to National U as scouts saw the athleticism in her. Still, it wasn’t an easy path for her. She had to learn the ropes, the basics of basketball, and how to be part of a successful championship roster.
“Nung una, hindi talaga ako marunong magbasketball. Pero yung coaches ko hindi nagsawa tulungan para maabot ko kung ano ako ngayon. Tinatanong ko rin sa teammates ko kung anong mali ko,” she said.
Dedicating her time to countless practices to get better everyday, Bernardino eventually became a beast on the floor, like a women’s counterpart of Calvin Abueva who would tear defenses apart and finish strong each time she has an opportunity. That killer instinct she has displayed has yielded Bernardino two titles, two season MVP awards, and a finals MVP trophy after scoring 18 points and grabbing 17 rebounds in the title-clincher against Ateneo.
“Thankful and blessed ako. Binigyan ako ng opportunity to get those achievements. And sa supporters, hindi sila nagsawa sumuporta sa amin.”
Off the court, Bernardino still holds a laid back personality — like how she was four years ago. She isn’t expressive and at first glance, Bernardino is pretty much like a typical college student people would see everyday. And she still couldn’t believe what she has accomplished over thr last four years until now.
“May time na naninibago pa rin ako na nakukuha ko tong (achievement). Hindi (sumagi sa isip ko) maging ganito. Una ko lang gusto ay matuto,” she said. “Pero kung papangarapin at pagta-tiyagaan mo maging ganito, makukuha mo siya.”
The year has been a fulfilling one for the 19-year-old Bernardino, who was also part of Perlas Pilipinas’ run at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.
With so many accolades already, one has to wonder if Bernardino still has goals as an athlete. As it turns out, Bernardino wants to reach a higher benchmark in her career: become the first Filipina in the WNBA.
“Kung papangarapin ulit, sa WNBA, sana (makalaro),” Bernardino said.
Throughout the interview, Bernardino was shaking ever so slightly, and was trying to hold back her tears.
Her tears didn’t fall — maybe because she is saving it for something bigger.