By Brian Yalung
Her name hardly rings a bell in her own country. But thanks to the shots heard around the world during the FIBA 3×3 Shootout Contest Tuesday, the Philippines’ Janine Pontejos is now a global star.
Given the chance to shine under the bleakest of circumstances, Pontejos, 25, from Lemery, Batangas and an assistant coach in Centro Escolar University’s (CEU) women’s basketball team, sparkled in the presence of the best gunners in the 2018 FIBA World Cup at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan by winning the gold medal in stunning fashion.
No less than Pontejos herself was in disbelief at what she had accomplished before her countrymen on a stormy evening amid the PH women team’s fruitless campaign.
“Wala po ako tinarget na kahit ano.Ang inisip ko lang po basta sasali lang ako sa shootout. Ako lang yung ni-lineup para dun (I never targeted anything, just wanted to be part of the event),” said Janine in an exclusive interview with the Manila Bulletin.
As if on cue as she approached the racks, Pontejos wowed the crowd with her unique form and precision, drilling in 12 shots overall including two bonus balls for a total tally of 14 points. She ended up tied with Russia’s Alexandra Stolyar but prevailed by virtue of a faster run at 41.86 seconds compared to Stolyar’s time of 49.92.
The PilipinasPerlas standout said a bronze medal would have made her day.
“Iniisip ko lang po kailangan ma -shoot ko mga tira ko. Kasi ang daming tao nananonood sa akin. Nakaka-hiya kung di ko ma-shoot mga tira ko. Tapos kahit makakuha man lang ako ng bronze, basta may mauwi akong medal para sa Pilipinas, okey na. (All I wanted was to make my shots because it would have been embarrassing not to. And a bronze would have made me happy),” Pontejos said.
Instead, a glittering gold medal was draped around her neck, a priceless gift that took a while to impact her while the tiebreak was being decided.
“Hindi ko po inisip na panalo na ‘ko. Hanggat di nakakatira yung kalaban ko. Lalo na’t oras din ang labanan namin. Kasi nag tie-breaker kami (Winning never crossed my mind until the result of the tiebreak was announced),” said Pontejos, who credited not only the supportive fans but also her teammates.
“Dahil sa mga teammates ko kaya kompyansa din ako. Mas may tiwala nga sila na mananalo ako kesa sa sarili ko. (I have my teammates to thank for. I think they believed in me more than I did)” she said.
A degree holder in business administration through an athletic scholarship at CEU where she graduated two years ago, Pontejos led the Lady Scorpions to dominant seasons in the WNCAA and NAASCU, winning several MVP honors along the way.
She was scouted by PerlasPilipinas and National University coach Patrick Aquino in 2015, made the cut during the tryouts and became an integral part of the PH roster that beat host Malaysia in the gold medal game of the 2016 Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA) Championships.
Possessed of a less than classic shooting form, Pontejos has allowed her pinpoint accuracy to do the talking for her in the absence of a more elegant style.
“Wala po ako pakialam kung papa’no nila ko maliitin o laitin sa kung anong meron ako. Performance naman po ang labanan. Kaya papakita ko nalang po kung bakit ako nandun (I don’t mind if they laugh at my form. After all, it’s performance that counts),” said Pontejos.
For Janine, who also beat two male finalists on the way to the gold, her feat became not only a personal accolade but also a national accomplishment given the scope of the event organized by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.
“Sobrang saya ko po. Ito po ang kauna-unahang award na nakuha ko sa international. Mas lalo po ako na-inspire na magtrabaho para sa bayan. At siguro mas makikilala na yung womens basketball ng PH sa nagawa ko (This will only inspire me more. And hopefully it will also give women’s basketball more notice),” she said.
In parting, Janine had this message for all aspiring basketball players:
“Sa lahat po ng mga manlalaro, especially sa kababaihan, wag nyo po kakalimutan magpasalamat saItaas. Hindi Niya tayo papabayaan. Second is maging hardworking lang, kailangan dedicated ka sa ginagawa mo. Ang pinakamahalaga is always stay humble. Kahit anong narating sa buhay wag nyo kakalimutan kung san ka nag mula (Players, especially women, never forget to thank the Lord above, continue to work hard and be dedicated in whatever you’re doing, and always stay humble).”