Dribble Media’s ZerJosh Serrano sat down with UE Lady Red Warrior Jenjen Nama to talk about why Filipinos need to be more aware of the landscape of Women’s Basketball in the Philippines.
Last week, former WNBA star Becky Hammon entered the history books as the first woman to assume the role of a head coach in a regular-season NBA game. Hammon has been an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs since 2014, and there’s no doubt that she has already earned the respect of the most prominent basketball players in the world.
Gregg Popovich, the Spurs’ long-tenured head coach, emphasized that hiring Hammon wasn’t about making history. Popovich was adamant that Hammon earned her title, and that no one should be surprised by how good Hammon is doing her job.
What Popovich is pointing out is that women rising up the ranks in their respective jobs should be perceived as just a normal sight to behold. That will be a difficult norm for people to get used to, particularly in a male-dominated sport like basketball.
It is difficult, but not something that is impossible to do. In the Philippines, where basketball is drastically influential, female hoopers are still yet to receive the full support and attention that their male counterparts are getting. Because of this reality, Jenjen Nama, a member of the UE Lady Red Warriors squad, would only look at basketball as a hobby when she was still learning the sport at a young age.
“When I was still learning how to play, naiisip ko na parang ang unique tignan kapag babae yung naglalaro ng basketball. Pero hindi ko sineseryoso yung paglalaro noon. Parang libangan ko lang talaga.”
As she continued to improve and expand her skill set, Jenjen admits that insecurities almost hindered her from completely pursuing basketball. It’s a common dilemma for female hoopers, mainly because there’s still the perception that they are considered “different.”
“Madaming challenges akong hinarap, lalo na yung insecurities ko sa paglalaro. Kaya tinanong ko yung sarili ko kung willing ba talaga ako i-pursue ang basketball. Alam ko kasi na kapag tumigil ako, wala ako mararating. Kaya pinilit kong labanan yung mga insecurities ko dahil passion ko ang basketball. Sabi ko sa sarili ko na balang araw may mapapatunayan ako at magkakaroon ng boses ang Women’s Basketball sa Pilipinas.”
That’s why the recent venture of the WNBL as the first professional women’s basketball league in the country is a blessing not just for female athletes, but for everyone who is following the sport. The WNBL will not just offer careers for female hoopers, but it will give all of us the much-needed awareness of how women’s basketball in the Philippines is growing at a steady rate.
“Noong nalaman ko na magkakaroon ng WNBL, naisip ko na ang laking opportunity nito para sa lahat. Kahit yung mga nag-retire na from playing basketball, bumalik yung passion nila sa paglalaro dahil sa WNBL. Big step ang WNBL para makilala at makita ng mga tao yung talents and skills namin. Magandang instrument ito para sa pag-promote ng women’s basketball sa Pilipinas.”
On a more personal note, Jenjen’s road to joining the Lady Red Warriors was a tough and winding path. She admitted that suiting up for Ateneo was her main goal back then, but she wasn’t able to make the roster after trying out for the Lady Blue Eagles.
Jenjen then attended a try-out for the UP Lady Maroons, and she was immediately accepted to the team right after she graduated from Senior High School. However, she had to consider other important aspects of her college life, most notably the financial side of it.
“Graduate din sa UE yung sister ko and kilala na ni Coach yung family ko. Hinihikayat niya ako noon pa na maging part ako ng UE team. After ako hindi palarin sa tryout sa Ateneo, nag-try naman ako sa UP. Nakuha ako doon kaso may mga aspects din kami na kailangang i-consider gaya ng allowances. It was fortunate na nandoon pa rin yung offer ng UE para sa akin. Kinuha nila ako right after ko magtry-out. Hindi man ito yung una kong priority na school, pero bukas na bukas yung pinto nila for me. Yung opportunity na binibigay nila sa akin is much bigger than other schools.”
While it’s true that it wasn’t Jenjen’s first choice, she admits that she has grown to love the whole UE community. Aside from the friends and connections that she has created within the university, Jenjen also reiterated that she and her teammates are already committed to pushing the Lady Red Warriors to greater heights in the UAAP.
But other than the responsibility that comes from their collective goal as a team, Jenjen also says that she feels a certain amount of pressure, especially when people compare the women’s basketball team to the men’s basketball team.
“Ibang level yung treatment and respect na pinapakita sa men’s team. Norm na kasi yun na mas kilala talaga ang mga lalaki. Sa amin naman na mga babae, kailangan manalo muna kami bago ma-gain yung respect ng tao. Unlike sa men’s team, may resulta man o wala, mataas na agad yung tingin sa kanila.”
In terms of the basic needs of student-athletes such as educational scholarships and supplies, Jenjen emphasized that there’s no difference between the two teams. However, the women’s basketball team is still lacking sponsors, which is something that their counterparts have in abundance.
The reality may be disheartening for Jenjen and her teammates, but they are not bent on letting it bring them down.
“We take it as a much-needed motivation. Oo, nakakalungkot isipin na hindi kami gaanong nabibigyan ng suporta, pero ito din yung chance namin na may mapatunayan. Naniniwala kami na balang araw dadami din yung manonood sa amin. Sa ganitong paraan mo din kasi makikita kung sino talaga yung sumusuporta sayo simula noong nasa baba ka pa.”
So if you’re a young aspiring Filipina baller whose passion lies in the sport of basketball, don’t be afraid to pursue even your loftiest goals. The current landscape of women’s basketball in the country may need more improvements, but we have players like Jenjen Nama who has made it her goal to abolish stereotyping in the sport that we deeply love.
As a short message for female athletes, Jenjen only has one advice: go for it.
“If you really want to play, go for it. Wala naman nagsisimula na magaling agad. Kung gusto mo talaga ang sport na nilalaro mo, give it a chance and keep going. Opportunity comes once lang kaya huwag natin hayaan na mawala pa.”