Dribble Media’s ZerJosh Serrano talked to NU Lady Bulldog and UAAP Season 82 Finals MVP Monique del Carmen about the steady rise of women’s basketball in the Philippines and the unwelcome presence of gender stereotyping in sports.
Monique del Carmen will suit up for the Pacific Water Queens in the WNBL. (Original photos taken by Angelo Rosales/Doricel Rosas)
“Bakit basketball yung laro niyo?”
Filipinos don’t encounter these questions often. After all, we’re living in a country that lives and breathes the game of basketball. But if you’re a female hooper like Monique del Carmen, you just have to get used to questions like this.
“Akala agad sa amin na volleyball or taekwondo players kami. Yun yung nakukuha namin na comments palagi. Sayang naman daw na matangkad kami. Kaya madami yung nagtataka na bakit basketball yung pinili namin na sport.”
In her collegiate stint with the National University Lady Bulldogs, Monique achieved just about every feat imaginable. She never lost even a single game in her UAAP career, and was named as the Finals MVP in Season 82.
Now that she has reached the pinnacle of her UAAP career, Monique can’t help but look back at her humble beginnings. Monique first learned how to hoop through the help of her older brother Angelo and cousin Carlo. She would practice literally everyday as she quickly developed a passion for the game.
But the crazy thing about this is that basketball wasn’t even the first sport that she played for a varsity team. Monique didn’t know that a basketball team for women exists, so she suited up for the tennis event instead. That just shows us how versatile of an athlete Monique is.
“Unang sport ko noong high school ay tennis talaga. Hindi ko kasi alam na may basketball varsity na pala para sa mga babae. Nalaman ko na lang na meron pala noong napapanood ko na sila sa provincial meet.
Pero mas forte ko talaga yung basketball. Way back eight years old pa lang ako, talagang nag-papraktis na ako at napamahal sa basketball.”
Monique never stopped hooping and her skills would improve so much that a playing career in the collegiate level became a goal for her. She admitted that it was always her dream to don the storied blue-and-white threads of Ateneo, but she had to be realistic in her approach.
Monique first attended a try-out for the Lady Blue Eagles, but she also kept her options open. Her high school coach then encouraged her to also try out for NU, and it turned out to be an excellent advice. NU readily welcomed her and she didn’t think twice of grabbing the opportunity.
So we asked Monique if she has any regrets of not being able to fulfill her dream of playing for Ateneo. With her unique skill set, she could have taken her talents to Katipunan if she wanted to. But Monique answered this question with a resounding “No.”
“Actually, sobrang hirap din ng journey ko sa NU. Pagpasok ko sa team, as in parang back to zero bigla ako. Noong high school kasi kapag marunong ka mag-dribble at mag-shoot, ikaw na agad yung pinakamagaling. Pero sa college, it’s a completely different level.
Muntikan na nga ako matanggal sa team. I think it’s in my second year sa team and parang hindi ako nag-iimprove. Pero never pumasok sa isip ko na lumipat. Gusto ko patunayan sa kanila na may ilalabas pa ako. Eventually, nagbunga naman lahat at nagkaroon ako ng consistent role sa NU.”
The NU Lady Bulldogs won their sixth straight championship during the Season 82 of the UAAP. (Photo by Angelo Rosales)
Monique would be a vital cog in the team’s undefeated run throughout her five-year stay in NU. But Monique was quick to point out that it’s not as easy as it looked. The 80-0 record she held with NU was a mountain of pressure, expectations and challenges that the team climbed by always communicating to each other.
“Sobrang taas din ng pressure kasi andoon lagi yung expectations ng tao na mananalo kami. On top of that, sobrang pinaghahandaan kami ng ibang teams kaya hindi pwede na complacent ka sa laro.
Pero yung mga challenges na yun dinadaan lang namin sa pag-uusap. Kapag may malaki o kahit maliit na problema, hindi namin palalampasin yun. Constant communication yung way namin sa NU para ma-overcome namin ung mga problema. Open talaga kami sa isa’t isa.”
But more than the trophies and medals they received during their multiple championships, NU’s historic run is a big boost to the improvement of the women’s basketball landscape in the Philippines.
Monique and her teammates know that they are part of something bigger than themselves. She believes that these historic achievements can help open the eyes of the Filipinos to the tremendous amount of work that female athletes put in everyday.
“Matatalo mo lang yung stereotyping ng mga tao kapag nakakagawa ka ng record-breaking performances. Kapag yung ginawa mo ay naisulat sa history books, doon lang mapapamulat yung mga tao na kaya talaga naming mga babae makipagsabayan.”
Still, we want to achieve a norm where women won’t have to do something momentous just to get the chance to have a seat at the table. We want to have a norm where a woman achieving a high level of success is not just looked upon as different or unique. Women achieve success because they put in the work, and they have the ability to do so.
That’s why Monique is advocating for more support and coverage of women’s basketball, especially from the media. Monique took some time to give a shout-out to the Go Hard Girls podcast, which she thinks helped paved the way for the recent increase in the media’s support to female athletes. Hosted by renowned sports reporter Ceej Tantengco, the Go Hard Girls podcast released an episode where Monique and her teammates chimed in their thoughts and experiences on their impressive 80-game winning streak, along with the challenges they face to overcome gender stereotyping.
Since the release of that episode in 2019, Monique observed that a higher number of female athletes were covered and interviewed by different media outlets.
“Kailangan din talaga ng support ng media. Naalala ko na yung Go Hard Girls ang unang nag-interview sa amin about stereotyping. After mailabas yung episode na yun, sobrang dami na ng nag-iinterview sa mga katulad ko na babaeng atleta. Sana magtuloy-tuloy na yung trend na ganito.”
With the Games and Amusement Board (GAB) granting a professional status to the WNBL last August 2020, Filipina hoopers can now play the sport that they love and earn a living out of it. The WNBL also recently held their first draft, where Monique was highly expected to be among the top picks. After all, Monique already proved that she is a winner with the number of championships she won and the Finals MVP plum she nabbed in UAAP Season 82.
Monique del Carmen putting in the work during the WNBL Draft Combine.
But we were astonished to find out that Monique slid all the way down to the 9th round of the draft. The Pacific Water Queens couldn’t be any happier in finding a UAAP Finals MVP’s name that late in the draft so it was a no-brainer of a decision. Still, it’s difficult to understand why Monique’s skill set and credentials didn’t result into a higher selection.
Monique then revealed to us that she suffered an ACL injury just before the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This could have been a factor, but Monique already showed during the draft combine that she has completely recovered from the injury.
Yet, Monique is not surprised that these teams passed up on her. She said that she is already used to being underestimated, and that this will be a chip on her shoulder moving forward.
“Hindi ko din masabi yung dahilan bakit bumaba ako sa draft. Siguro one factor yung ACL injury ko kasi recent lang yun. During the pandemic, puro rehabilitation lang yung ginawa ko so naging priority ko talaga yung pag-heal ng tuhod ko.
I don’t know the specific reasons but all my life I’ve always been underestimated. I always had to prove my worth day in and day out even during my time in NU. Hindi na ito bago para sa akin.
But I’m still happy to be selected among the hundreds na nagpa-draft. Sobrang saya ng family ko na mapapanood nila ako ulit. Sobrang thankful ako sa Pacific Water sa tiwala nila. I will work hard to repay that trust.”
For all the people who are still belittling female hoopers, don’t forget that they are professional athletes. They go through a rigorous schedule of practice sessions every week, log in hours of extra work in the gym, and employ a strict diet to keep their bodies in shape. This level of discipline and commitment is something that they need to maintain for the whole year, even during off-seasons.
In the closing moments of our interview, Monique then shut down any perceptions that women’s basketball is “soft.”
“Gusto ng ibang tao na dapat maganda ka kapag naglalaro ng basketball. Kailangan mahaba buhok mo o dapat maikli ang shorts. Nakaka-offend yun sa amin kasi nababalewala yung dugo’t pawis na nilalaan namin para sa basketball. Sana mawala na yung standard na ganyan.
Akala ng tao na kapag nasa laro, takot kami sa pisikalan. Akala niyo lang yun. Ayun lang ang masasabi ko.”
So if you’re an aspiring athlete who dreams to make a career out of sports, never think that only men can become successful in this field. Take this advice from Monique del Carmen, a former UAAP Finals MVP and now a professional basketball player.
“Don’t let anything, especially your gender, limit you on what you can achieve. If you really want to do something, do it 110%. I-mulat natin ang mga tao sa katotohanan na kaya din natin.”
Monique also co-owns a local-based clothing brand called PRO Clothing PH. PRO Clothing PH offers a wide variety of cool hoodies and shirts, while also advocating women empowerment through their brand. Check out their Facebook and Instagram pages!