MANILA – The moments which transpired before the 2023 SLAM Rising Stars Classic's first ever girls' all-star game last Sunday were every past, present, and future Filipina basketball player's dream.
Gilas Pilipinas Women members of old and new casually caught up with one another over cups of their favorite iced coffee.
Raiza Palmera-Dy, who now serves as an assistant coach for University of Santo Tomas and is a mother of three children, gladly spoke with current national team pool player Sofia Roman.
The two played together in 2015, back when Palmera-Dy only had one child, and Roman was more than elated to see her younger daughters.
Elsewhere, Gilas Women players and former and current collegiate stars in attendance snapped as many photos as they could – not wanting to miss anything.
“It’s an amazing thing to happen right now. I know this is not going to be the last, and hopefully, everybody will see the new talents and homegrown talents growing up,” national team head coach Patrick Aquino said.
The star-studded show also had incoming Ateneo Blue Eagles Mason Amos and Raffy Celis, and UP Fighting Maroons commit Jared Bahay in attendance.
Women’s basketball coaches Cholo Villanueva and Bacon Austria also watched keenly, while Blackwater Bossing’s Troy Rosario, a girl dad himself, also dropped by.
Aquino’s assistant and women’s basketball pioneer Julie Amos coached Team Buckets to a slim 91-89 win over Team Stars, which was coached by Palmera-Dy’s contemporary, Allana Lim.
The NU Nazareth School tandem of Cielo Pagdulagan and Alicia Villanueva’s 46 combined points led the winning selection to victory.
“It’s really nice that they were there to step up. Even if mixed ang kalaban and kakampi, talagang pinakita nila ‘yung girls’ basketball is something to look forward to,” Amos said.
Amos noted that the all-star rosters had players from across the country to ensure representation.
“When we (were) asked to look for the top 24, talagang hinalughug natin all over the country. We have players from Batangas, Baguio, Davao, Cebu, kaya alam kong pagdating nila rito, they will perform,” Amos shared.
Throughout the contest, Gilas Women reacted to every highlight material from the VIP row.
Team Buckets’ Camille Nolasco and Team Stars’ Karylle Sierba engaged in a showdown early on. Sierba showcased her quickness and converted countless layups. Nolasco answered with her timely triples.
In the end, Pagdulagan and Villanueva took turns in delivering the finishing touches.
Many years ago, opportunities like an all-star showcase did not come often, so the girls all fittingly made the most out of it.
“It’s so nice to see them. Kinausap ko rin sila. Sabi ko, andiyan ang mga ate ninyo. Envy ‘yan, kasi walang SLAM (all-star game) before, but because of their efforts, kaya nagkaroon ng ganito,” Amos told the all-stars.
“Marami talagang talents ang women’s basketball. All we have to do is spot them and give them these kinds of opportunities, and for sure, everything will be exciting, because we are here to compete.”
Prior to tip-off, SLAM Philippines unveiled the first ever WSLAM Philippines print issue, which featured 10 of the country’s top 24 female high school players on the cover, clad in their respective alma mater jerseys.
Aquino casually read a copy of the issue as the all-star game commenced. Even if the veteran mentor usually sports a serious demeanor, it was hard not to break a smile.
“We’re just happy that we’ve been recognized. I hope it’s just the spark to start something new. I’ve been dreaming of that for the women’s side,” he said.
“We have started that already in the UAAP and in the Gilas program. Hopefully, it continues with the sponsorships and people stepping out to do things for the women’s side.”
As the show went on, the longtime women’s basketball advocate could not help but reflect on how far the sport has come from a talent identification standpoint.
“It’s been hard before. When I started, not just coaching the national team but even when I was coaching NU, it’s really hard to recruit,” Aquino shared.
“But time flies; and getting to see new talent, it hones the future for the girls. May dumarating na bago, and it’s not just here in Manila, but hopefully across the country, na nakita natin and makapaglaro ng basketball.”
“It’s for all the girls aiming high na makapaglaro ng basketball and to represent the country, that’s what’s important here. I’m just glad that nare-represent sila rito ng maganda,” he added.
Gilas Women mainstays Jack Animam, Camille Clarin, Katrina Guytingco, Ella Fajardo, and Afril Bernardino were also in the pages, each having their own feature.
Animam gushed as she signed copies of the newly-released magazine and took photos with the younger generation of athletes.
To be feted in a sports material and have their names and careers immortalized through words, she mentioned, is to feel recognized; invited or not, Gilas Women would have still attended the historic occasion. In the end, it’s about paying it forward.
“It’s for them to see that we see them,” Animam said. “Nag go-grow na siya, and hopefully masustain, because nakita niyo naman how talented women’s basketball players are.”
On Wednesday, SLAM would reveal the alternate cover of the premiere issue which had the five seniors on the cover, captioned "Golden Era."
Fajardo treasures being feted as a cover athlete; but more than that, personally seeing her younger sister Ava on the pages of the new magazine also made Fajardo a proud ate.
“As much as I was very excited to see myself, it was more of a very proud ‘ate’ moment for me, seeing Ava on the pages. She had her own page. She had a lot of pages with other people,” Ella said.
“Of course, I have a part in paving the way for her, but even the quotes that she said, like she knows she’s enough, and everything she does on the court is going to be enough, I’m very proud that she says those things. It makes me a very proud ate.”
For others like Clarin, the cover and pull-up poster weren't the first occasions she saw herself on a magazine or an electronic billboard ad; she had been part of a SLAM cover before, and a local Nike campaign.
But the latest WSLAM magazine isn’t just about her or her generation. How the latest WSLAM magazine transcended generations and sets up the youngsters for a bright future is what's more significant.
“Even if it’s just the first WSLAM magazine for us, it’s a big deal. It’s very inspirational. It shows that what we’re doing here really counts and matters,” Fajardo said.
For everyone in attendance last Sunday – from Amos who represented the Philippines in the 1990s to Animam who dominated the UAAP in the mid-2010s – from Fajardo and Clarin who joined Gilas Women at the turn of the decade to the new era of potential Filipino women’s basketball superstars, the Rising Stars Classic event was a proud moment.
“Sinasabi ko nga sa sarili ko, when I was their age, I don’t know what I was doing, but look at them, grabe ‘yung generation ngayon and they deserve this. It’s all for them and I’m happy to witness it,” Animam said.
And as much as the event is seen as a culmination, it is only the start of a new era as one of the covers suggests – an era everyone in the Philippine women’s basketball community deserves to have.
"The stories of where we came from, how far we've become, and the moments that make up what the women's game looks like today matter," SLAM guest editor Atty. Mariana Lopa said.
"This magazine is the ultimate celebration. But also, it is the roadmap – study it, use it, and learn from it. Most importantly, walk alongside us on the path that is said for you to play your role in growing the women's game."