MANILA, Philippines -- The country's best female basketball players continue to push for the creation of their own league, even though opportunities abroad have come calling for some of them.
National University (NU) star Jack Animam is the latest Filipina to take her talents overseas, having signed as an import for Shih Hsin University in Taiwan's University Basketball Association.
Other former NU stars such as Afril Bernardino and Gemma Miranda have previously played as imports in Malaysia. Allana Lim, a standout for Far Eastern University (FEU), has played in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore as a reinforcement as well.
For them, however, the dream remains the same -- to play in a professional league at home.
"Sobrang gusto talaga namin magkaroon ng women's league dito sa atin," Animam said during a recent appearance on the "So She Did" podcast.
"There's so much talent talaga," she noted. "It's just that there's no avenue to show people, and sayang. 'Yun nga -- we have to go overseas just to play, kung pwede sana dito na lang sa atin, 'di ba?"
Bernardino, a three-time UAAP Most Valuable Player, said a league will allow Filipinas to show that they, too, have the passion for basketball. They are not asking for the league to be immediately as big as the Philippine Basketball Association as the Filipinas know they have to start small.
"Kailangan din natin ng kahit na maliit na professional league for women's," said Bernardino. "After college kasi wala tayong mapupuntahan."
"Paano naman 'yung mga tulad natin na mahilig sa basketball? Kumbaga, passion na natin 'yung basketball eh. Paano na after college? Wala na tayong pupuntahan," she added. "Kahit hindi man siya katulad ng PBA, at least meron tayo nung pang-women's basketball league sa Pilipinas na malilibang tayo, maipagpapatuloy natin 'yung passion natin sa basketball."
Both Bernardino and Animam played for the Philippine women's 3x3 and 5-on-5 teams that won the gold medals in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. It marked the first time that the Gilas Pilipinas women's team had won basketball gold in the biennial event, ending years of heartbreak and near-misses.
Afterward, the players and coach Patrick Aquino expressed their hope that they can build on those successes, possibly with the creation of a women's league. The PBA in February said they were thinking of creating a 3x3 competition for women alongside with the men's tournament.
All those plans, however, have been put on ice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Clare Castro, an FEU standout who also played for the national team, a professional league is necessary as it will inevitably boost the Gilas Pilipinas program as well.
"Hindi naman lahat nakakapag-RP (Philippine team)," she noted. "Maraming nasasayang na talents, kasi wala nang league after college."
"Saka mas makakatulong 'yun eh. Kasi kapag sa international games, tulad sa Taiwan -- meron silang professional league, tapos meron silang national team. Mas parang nai-improve nila 'yung teamwork," she added.
Castro revealed that Lim had previously invited her to play in Indonesia, but opted to stay in FEU to finish her collegiate career. As of now, she wants to improve her game in the Philippines before hopefully pursuing overseas opportunities as well.
At the end of the day, the Filipinas deserve a league of their own because they put in the same work and show the same dedication as the male players, yet they have no place to showcase their talent and skill.
This was the argument made by Ateneo de Manila University's Trina Guytingco, who stressed that the "amazing female basketball players" of the country do not get the recognition they deserve.
"We got through the same process as men," she said. "We practice every single day, we work out, we go through the mental and physical pain. I think it's only fair that we should have a league as well."
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).