MANILA, Philippines – Afril Bernardino could not help but give her father a heartfelt hug as the days she spent away from her family paid off with a gold medal in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
Bernardino and Gilas Pilipinas Women took home the top prize in the inaugural 3x3 basketball competition after weathering a late comeback storm from Thailand, 17-13, on Monday, December 2.
"The team practices every day, even during weekends, so we weren't able to go home to our families," she said in a mix of Filipino and English.
"When I hugged him tightly and I told him, 'Papa, all of our sacrifices are worth it."
With her father and the rowdy hometown crowd at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan behind them, Bernardino made sure she will end the tournament with a gold medal dangling around her neck.
Despite dealing with a sprained thumb, the 28-year-old put the team on her back as she churned out 10 points, including the last bucket that gave the Filipinos enough separation to exact revenge on the Thais.
"I couldn't fathom how great of a game she played," Philippines head coach Pat Aquino said of Bernardino in a mix of Filipino and English.
"She really wanted to win this gold for us and I know in her heart that she really wanted to prove something, not only for us but to all of you that maybe Filipinos can also give us attention," Aquino added.
Yearning for recognition
Aside from winning the gold, Bernardino wanted to send a message to Filipinos that women's basketball also deserves attention and support.
In terms of popularity and media mileage, women's basketball often pales in comparison to the men's game in the Philippines.
But in the SEA Games, Gilas Pilipinas Women shared the same bright spotlight with their male counterparts by proving they are the best in the region.
"That's everything we've been wishing for – that people notice women's basketball. We hope you can all support women's basketball," Bernardino said.
"I hope we've already gotten their attention. That was our goal, that if we win this game, then maybe they'll given their attention to us women."
Work, though, is far from done for Bernardino, Jack Animam, Janine Pontejos, and Clare Castro as they compete in 5-on-5 basketball seeking to help the Philippines win its first SEA Games gold in women's play. – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.