By Drei Christopher Villanueva
MALACCA, Malaysia – In town for the SEABA Women’s Championship, Perlas Pilipinas arrived in Malaysia late Monday night and had a quick dinner at around 9 p.m. before hitting the sack a few hours later. The next day, they were scheduled to practice early afternoon before beginning their campaign on Tuesday against Singapore, whom they would go on to beat with a remarkable 69-43 win.
But before that match could happen veteran player Ewon Arayi, who was declared unfit to play due to her recovering from dengue, was inspiring her team by leading them in their daily morning jog. The longest-tenured member of the Perlas Pilipinas team and 2016 Jr. WNBA Coach of the Year, Arayi has been visible every day since Perlas’ arrival in Malaysia, motivating the squad with her passionate spirit.
“Gusto kong makatulong sa team sa kahit anong paraan,” said Arayi, an enlisted Navy personnel and member of the women’s national team since 2007. “Gustung-gusto kong maglaro, pero hindi ako pinayagan ng doctor namin sa Navy.”
Arayi was diagnosed with dengue at V. Luna Hospital last week following complaints about pain in her gallbladder, leading to her Perlas Pilipinas spot being filled by Andrea Pontejos.
On Tuesday, Perlas Pilipinas had an afternoon workout supervised by assistant coach Paul Du pending the arrival of head coach Patrick Aquino and two other mainstays – Afril Bernardino and Jack Animam. The three couldn’t make the trip earlier as they had a game in the UAAP. Aquino is also the head mentor of National University with Bernardino and Animam as her stalwarts.
With Pontejos, Bernardino and Animam completed the final 12 of Perlas Pilipinas that also has mainstays Allan Lim, Camille Sambile, Shelley Gupilan and Raiza Dy-Palmera, Ara Abaca, Chack Cabinbin, and Andrea Tongco.
Last year, the hosting rights of the SEABA Women’s Championship was offered to the Philippines, but officials of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas declined as they had already committed to the SEABA Under-16 Tournament in Cagayan de Oro.
This year, Malaysia accepted the hosting rights, a move Perlas Pilipinas team manager Wilbert Loa believes the host country is doing to maximize its recently-formed competitive squad.
“We saw how they improved in the SEA Games last year and they continued their build up, even putting up a training camp in the Philippines, said Loa. “They really wanted to form a competitive team.”
With that being the case, and with Perlas Pilipinas having won their opening match, we’re looking forward to some fantastic international basketball moments over the next few days.