For Janine Pontejos, she did not even think of playing basketball as a serious career growing up, but that did not even stop her from working her way up to become the country’s reliable lady ballers.
When the double SEA Games champion talked with fellow Gilas Women teammate and host Bea Daez on the fourth episode of SBP’s Women in Charge last July 9, the sniping sensation joined the former queen Maroon in recalling her tale with the sport that was mostly masculine in nature, breaking every barrier in the process.
However, her roots to the game is synonymous with every Filipino cager as they were brought to the sport alongside with her siblings and their neighborhood in Lemery, Batangas. And yes, she was the lone girl amongst the boys when there’s shoot-around and pickups in their courts.
“Madalas ako naglalaro sa mga kalye,” she said. “Niyaya ako ng mga barkada ng kapatid ko.”
But unlike most players where they have been playing since elementary, Pontejos did not have that experience in organized hoops until in her early college days in La Salle-Lipa when she was there as a varsity, this time in athletics where she was the sprint specialist.
“Sinamahan ko yung teammate ko mag-tryout sa basketball. Tapos ako yung nakuha, hindi siya,” Pontejos giggle as she recalled her time being a two-sport varsity.
However, it was not Centro Escolar that was actively seeking her as it seems.
“Gusto ko talaga sa La Salle-Dasmarinas dapat ako pupunta”, she retold, before her mom initially disapproving it before latter allowing her to go to CEU.
What was the loss of the Lady Patriots has become a massive gain for the Lady Scorpions, as Pontejos became a legend of her own in Mendiola, as she became the four-time MVP of not just in the WNCAA, but also in the NAASCU where they lorded over as the undisputed basketball queens.
After finishing her college career on a high both on and off the court (she majored in Business Administration), the logical step up is to play in the national team. But unlike the former, it was a not smooth sailing as she found out.
“Sa college kasi, ka-level mo lang talaga yung kalaro mo. Tapos bigla kang mapupunta ng international, dapat ready ka palagi.”
Being from a school that is one of the best women’s basketball programs outside of the UAAP, Pontejos knew that she had to do double or triple the work to get noticed.
“Yung mindset mo, kailangan may ipakita ka. Di ka kinuha para lang maglaro ka. Kinuha ka para may mapatunayan ka.”
And that perseverance worked. Since her debut in the victorious 2016 SEABA title-winning squad, Pontejos had become a key cog in coach Patrick Aquino’s plans while solidifying her spot as the first-choice shooting guard.
After she first made her mark in 2018 when she won the Shootout event at the country’s hosting of the FIBA 3x3 World Cup, she then continued her excellence by copping the gold in both the 3x3 and 5-on-5 at the Southeast Asian Games a year later.
Reflecting on the rise of the women’s basketball in the country, Pontejos was glad that she made a huge role in making their game mainstream with their performances, in which the nascent Women’s NBL that is already gone fully professional elevated them even more.
“Masaya ako kasi, hindi na masasayang yung pinaghirapan ng mga bata,” she then said. “Minamaximize na nila yung talent.”
FILE PHOTOS: FIBA