By Drei Christopher Villanueva
Cagebelles will grab the spotlight this year as the Philippine Basketball Association and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas have decided to give more importance to women’s basketball program. The PBA just gave everyone a bird’s eye view of what to expect when they staged the first ever full-scrimmage, five-on-five game featuring some of the finest women players in the country.
Last year, the pro league slowly tried to adopt a league that will cater to the cagebelles when it came up with a 3 x 3 league where each team was supported by 12 participants in the PBA. This time, the PBA has rolled the carpet to the cagebelles when they took part in the recent All-Star festivities.
Blackwater team owner Dioceldo Sy, whose Ever Bilena company has been supporting the women’s national team program, said the PBA had already approved the staging of the first ever Women’s PBA League, which is set to unfurl early next year.
“It was already approved and we will begin by tapping women’s basketball teams from the UAAP, which can also get its alumni players. We will not enforce an age limit just to get this thing started,” said Sy.
For Sy, the creation of the first Women’s PBA League, which was patterned after the old WPBL, will also widen the pool for our cagebelles who are aspiring to join the national team.
Sy’s Perlas Pilipinas team, our country’s representative for major international events, is scheduled to play in the coming Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) Women’s Championship in Melacca, Malaysia beginning September 20.
The SEABA Women’s Championship is a stepladder event for next year’s FIBA Asia Women’s Championship. Last Perlas Pilipinas made its way back to Group 1, the elite group where China, Korea, Japan and powerhouse teams from the Middle East are playing.
The SBP, under the current leadership headed by its newly-elected president Al Panlilio and chairman Senator Sonny Angara, has affirmed its commitment to strengthen the women’s basketball program.
Sy and Perlas Pilipinas coach Patrick Aquino said the national women’s basketball team should also be given the opportunity to tap a naturalized player, a benefit given to the men’s team the past few years.
During the 1980s, the Northern Consolidated Corporation backed by Eduardo Cojuangco, was able to naturalize players like Ricardo Brown, Willie Pearson, Jeff Moore and Dennis Still, allowing them to represent the country in major events.
In 2010, Marcus Douthit was granted Philippine citizenship in time for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China, then Andray Blatche followed the suit two years later, enabling the former Brooklyn Nets center to spearhead Gilas Pilipinas in the 2014 World Cup.
Aquino hopes Perlas Pilipinas will also be given a naturalized player whom they can utilize in next year’s FIBA Asia Women’s Championship.
Six years ago, a Chinese player named Zheng Xiaojing, a 6-foot-4 frontliner, was recruited by the national women’s basketball team and became candidate for naturalization. Zheng’s papers passed the first reading in the Congress, but eventually, only Douthit was granted Philippine citizenship.
“I hope we can get one soon,” added Aquino. “I hope we’ll have one this time because we really need a big lady to help us out.”
Aquino has initially talked to Kelli Hayes, a Fil-American who is currently playing for the UCLA Bruins, but because of his commitment with the school to play in the US NCAA, nothing is set in stone yet.
With the doors open for Filipinas to go pro in the nation’s favorite sport, it will be exciting to see in the next few months who will make the cut before the first tip off.