Rhena Itesi’s father flew from Congo to watch his daughter play her final game with National University last Saturday.
And the 23-year-old was glad that someone from her home was there to witness her make history.
“As I said, last year I was jealous when I saw Ria Nabalan and Jhianne Layug [receive] shirt[s] and this year I got mine,” said the 23-year-old, referring to her own 80-0 shirt.
However, it was bittersweet for Itesi as well.
For the first time in four years, the 6-foot-4 Itesi did not have her frontcourt-mate 6-foot-5 Jack Animam on her side.
Animam fractured her right orbital bone during the 2019 FIBA Women’s Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in New Zealand.
And she was emotional while she and Animam videochatted before the game.
“She messaged me before the day before the first game. She said, ‘I know that you always got my back but you can do it without me.’ I was crying. I was really crying. We did a video call, I couldn’t even look at her because this is my first championship to play without Jack,” Itesi shared.
“Because every time I played the championship, it’s always like when I’m scoring, she shout[s] at my back like ‘Rhena, you score I got the rebound.’ And when she was scoring, I’m getting the rebound. It was always like that.”
And so in Game Two, Itesi played inspired basketball, finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three steals to help NU take a dominant 66-54 win over UST for the school’s sixth straight crown.
It was a perfect end to her six-year odyssey from Congo to the Philippines.
“I’ve been here for like seven years. Two years I didn’t play then five years. But I haven’t been supported the way they supported me this year, especially this championship. Everyone was at my back. Everyone was like, ‘Rhena you can do it’,” she said.
“It just made me want it more. And I wanted this six-peat.”