The reality is that women’s basketball in the Philippines isn’t receiving massive attention today, and it will still not likely get anything big in the immediate future.
Not everyone who dreams of being a successful women’s basketball player in the archipelago ends up becoming that.
Yet in spite of this, Kristine Cayabyab, 12, already etched an achievement across her basketball resumé, which may never be replicated by others in their respective lifetimes.
Indiana Pacer, Paul George was at the inaguration of Nike’s House of Rise, where the shoe company also unveiled the names of its 24 aspiring athletes.
Cayabyab was one of them, and during the 5-on-5 scrimmages, the Dagupan native picked George’s pocket from behind, and blazed for a fastbreak layup, which sent the House of Rise crowd roaring.
Cayabyab’s hoops career started when she was in fourth grade, as father told her she had the talent in for the sport. Inspired, the young lady pursued a career and is now one of the best ballers of her region, even representing the area in the Palarong Pambansa — the highest level of competition in the country for elementary and high school athletes.
That moment captivated Cayabyab, who never in her wildest dream thought it would materialize.
“Masayang masaya po dahil nakalaro ko ang idol ko sa NBA at marami akong na-experience,” she said. “Idol ko yun, na-stealan ko pa, hinding-hindi ko makakalimutan sa buong buhay ko yun.”
In fact, she plays the center spot back in Pangasinan, although had to adjust when selected as part of the Rise 24 since she was surrounded by taller athletes.
“Gusto ko pang gumaling sa basketball, gusto ko pang matutunan lahat ng drills sa basketball. Gusto kong tumaas ang laro ko. Sa Pangasinan, sentro ako at hindi point guard. Kailangan ko lang maging guwardiya dahil malalaki ang kasama ko.”
The moment — perhaps one of the night’s highlights aside from George’s slam dunks — was only a huge bonus for Cayabyab, who braved the path carrying a single purpose.
“Sana maging sikat ang (women’s) basketball at maging influence ako sa kababaihang basketball players,” she shared, hoping to inspire others they have what it takes to open doors.
“Kahit na hindi sikat ang basketball sa babae, sana pagpatuloy nila ang galing nila sa basketball. Malaking stepping stone ito dahil gusto ko rin mangyari ito sa mga taga probinsya. Minsan lang mangyari sa amin ito. Dahil nakarating ako (sa Rise) ipapakita ko na kaya namin makipagsabayan. Hindi ako magpapatalo kahit na mga lalaki sila.”
Before George left the venue, he joined the Rise 24’s huddle at centercourt along with Nike Rise’s coaches, and exchanged high-fives with the participants. George spent a few seconds to speak to Cayabyab, perhaps reminding her she did well on that occasion.
It was not only Cayabyab who brought her wares to the court. Before her big moment happened, another girl impressed.
Rossini Espinas, 16, received a drop pass, backed down from her two defenders and threw up a hook shot over them; the shot bounced off the glass and found its way in, drawing applause from the audience as she ran the length of the court to get to the other side.
Espinas’ basketball journey started when she played on outdoor courts in Davao. After seeing other women playing the sport, Espinas realized she may have a shot, and it did not take her long before becoming competitive.
“Noong nakita ko ang mga babae na naglalaro rin sa amin, naisip ko na hindi lang pala siya panglalaking laro. May mga babae na hindi pa nae-expose pero marami silang potensyal,” she said.
Now in fourth year high school, Espinas is eyeing an athletic scholarship in Manila to help her family back in her hometown.
She does not mind leaving school for 6 weeks to undergo the Rise process, with hopes of becoming a professional Women’s Basketball Player someday.
“Masaya” was the only word she could utter when asked about the experience to play alongside George and select athletes from all over the nation.
“Sobrang mahirap. Hindi basta-basta ang makapasok rito. Iniisip ko na lang na kakayanin ko maski lalaki ang mga kalaban ko,” Espinas shared. “Hanggang ngayon hindi ako makapaniwala na nakasama ko siya.”
Like Cayabyab, Espinas wants to empower aspiring ladies and remind them keep pursuing their basketball dreams.
“Gusto ko maging tulay para sa mga babae at mapakita sa kanila na kaya rin nila maglaro ng basketball. Gusto ko silang i-encourage na marami pa diyan ang hindi nakikita sa iba’t ibang lugar na magagaling,” she added.
“Sana may chance ang (mga) babae na makapaglaro ng basketball.”
Given a unique platform to showcase what they are capable of, Cayabyab and Espinas didn’t only do well on the court, but also sent across a message to the sports world.
Both young women understand they are fortunate to be given the opportunity, and they are blazing the trail — hoping more doors will open in the future for aspirants like them.