Jr. NBA, Jr. WNBA All-Stars named
MANILA, Philippines—NBA rising star Gordon Hayward and WNBA legend Tina Thompson looked on as young boys and girls strut their stuff in the third and final day of the Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA National Training Camp at the SM Mall of Asia Music Hall Sunday.
And at the end of the day, the Utah Jazz forward Hayward and two-time Olympic gold medalist Thompson were convinced: Filipinos can play.
“We’ve seen a lot this weekend and I think the future of Philippine basketball is very bright,” said Hayward, who also participated during the Jr. NBA Alumni All-Star game as coach of the winning team. “It’s only a matter of time before a Filipino player makes it to the NBA.”
“There’s a lot of good young talent here,” said Thompson, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Kids aged 10-14 were selected over a series of regional camps held all over the country that featured hundreds of participants before the numbers were trimmed down to 50 boys and 24 girls for the National Training Camp where only a few were chosen to represent the country against other kids in other countries and get the ultimate NBA experience later in the year.
Out of the 50 Jr. NBA finalists, Luigi Velasco, who was hailed the National Training Camp MVP, led this year’s Jr. NBA class, which included Samjosef Belangel, Rayyan Amsali, John Richard Gan, Vince Leo Dolendo, Andrew Vincent Velasco, Jethro Rocamora, Paul Matthew Manalang, John Cyril Narvasa and David Leandro Umadhay.
Among the girls, who displayed grit and grace, Mary Jean Pascual, diminutive but has a great feel for the game, stood out among her batchmates with her flashy and selfless kind of basketball.
“Sobrang saya ko (I’m really happy), said a beaming 14-year-old Pascual, a high-school student from the University of Southern Philippines Foundation (USPF).
“Maraming mga magagaling kaya hindi ako nag-expect na makuha ako (There were a lot of good players and I didn’t expect that I would be chosen),” admitted Pascual, who said she idolizes five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Joining the Cebu-native playmaker Pascual as the inaugural Jr. WNBA All-Stars were Karl Ann Pingol, Arielle Marie Lanot, Kreecie Bettina Binaohan and Roxanne Salvador.
Thompson said she sees herself through the Jr. WNBA finalists with her being part of the first-ever WNBA season back in 1997 and holding a big responsibility as part of a foundation.
Pascual, who couldn’t wipe off her smile over the course of the interview, also said one of her dreams is to watch an NBA game live.
“Dream big,” Hayward also said. “Never thought I could make it in the NBA.”