MANILA, Philippines – Janine Pontejos has competed for the Philippines several times already in her career. But it was not until the 2018 FIBA 3x3 Basketball World Cup that she got to bask in the applause of her countrymen.
Pontejos quickly established herself as a fan favorite in Day 1 of the tournament, thanks to her outside shooting. But it was on Day 3 that she truly became a star.
The 5-foot-5 guard exploded for 13 points in the Philippines' close 21-17 loss to Spain, and added seven points in another heartbreaking 18-15 defeat to Hungary. She finished with 27 points in four games, tied for fourth among all female players.
Pontejos, who drilled five two-pointers against Spain, credited the home crowd for giving her the energy.
"Lumakas 'yung loob ko sa crowd kasi ang lakas, 'yung mga sigawan nila sobrang nakaka-taas din ng energy eh. Pagka naka-shoot ka, sisigaw sila tapos siyempre 'yung depensa mo, makukuha mo rin," said Pontejos, a former star for Centro Escolar University (CEU).
"So doon ko siguro nakuha 'yung kumpyansa ko na tumira. Tapos with teammates pa na tiwala sila sa akin na pag pinasa nila, mashu-shoot ko 'yung tira ko," she added.
The 25-year-old guard had been determined to bounce back on Sunday, admitting that she could barely sleep after their performances against the Netherlands and Germany last Friday. The loss to Germany, in particular, was painful: Pontejos missed three long jumpers in the final minute that could have tied the game.
"Hindi ako nakatulog nung natalo kami, hanggang kagabi. Hindi talaga ako nakatulog, iniisip ko kung ano 'yung gagawin ko para makabawi ako sa talo namin. Although kahit talo kami, ginawa namin yung best namin," she said.
For Philippine coach Patrick Aquino, seeing Pontejos come up big for the women's team was a source of pride.
"I know she has something to prove," Aquino said of Pontejos, the only member of the 3x3 team who does not hail from his National University program.
"She was deadly in college," he said of the guard, noting that Pontejos used to lead CEU to victories over his own teams. "So sabi ko nga, even though maliit siya, pero shooter. Sabi ko kailangan natin ng mga ganyan sa team natin, so I really had to ask her to join the national team."
"Buti na lang napapakita niya ang galing niya."
Truly, Pontejos wanted to show that her height was of no detriment to her, even in international play, against bigger, stronger, taller players. She revealed Sunday that players from other teams would look at her from head to toe when she passed by them in the hotel, as if sizing her up.
She proved Sunday that she could cut those much taller players down to size.
"Kahit po tinitingnan nila ako, pinapakita ko na wala sa akin 'yun, kasi doon na lang po kami maghaharap sa court, 'yun na lang po papakita ko," said Pontejos.
Pontejos still has one more chance to represent the Philippines in the FIBA 3x3 World Cup, as she is currently in the running to compete in the finals of the shootout.
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