Philippine basketball

TNT coach Mau Belen proves she is a game changer

Ariel Ian Clarito
TNT coach Mau Belen proves she is a game changer

LANDMARK WIN. Mau Belen (center) is the first coach to win a championship in PBA 3x3 history.

PBA Images

Mau Belen has led the TNT Tropang Giga to a PBA 3x3 championship and two third-place finishes over the first four legs of the tournament

MANILA, Philippines – Maureen Kris Belen has accomplished a lot of firsts in the Philippine basketball scene.

She is the first woman to become part of the coaching staff of a PBA squad. She is the first woman to be named head coach of a franchise in the PBA 3×3 tournament. She is the first head coach to pilot a team to the championship of the PBA 3×3 tournament after TNT Tropang Giga won the first leg of the competition.   

Belen wishes for the day that being first for a female will no longer be big news.

“I hope the time comes that when a job opens up, everyone can apply, regardless of gender or orientation,” she told Rappler.

The fact that Belen broke through what traditionally is a glass ceiling for female coaches has only further motivated her to champion women’s rights.

That is why I want to be a winner. People pay attention to winners. Hanggang hindi ka pa nananalo, parang wala ka pang napapatunayan,” said Belen as she explained her intention to magnify her voice so she could continue to speak up for fellow women in the arena of basketball.

(That is why I want to be a winner. People pay attention to winners. As long as you haven’t won, it’s as if you haven’t done anything.)

The results, thus far, have shown that Belen is not just up to the task of a head coach, but she is among the top tacticians in the field. TNT has been one of the most consistent performers in the 3×3 tournament despite encountering some manpower challenges.

After emerging as champions of the inaugural PBA 3×3 leg, the Tropang Giga copped third place in the second edition of the tournament. The third leg saw the shorthanded squad fail to advance to the knockout phase as it dealt with the injury to Jeremiah Gray and the suspension of Lervin Flores. 

After fielding in a replacement player in Martin Gozum, who took the place of Gray, the Tropang Giga bounced back strong in the fourth leg with another semifinal appearance. In the battle for third place, Almond Vosotros sparked a comeback from 6 points down before Samboy de Leon sank the game winner in a pulsating hill-hill encounter against Platinum Karaoke, 21-20. After four legs, the TNT Tropang Giga found itself at second place in the overall standings.

Belen noted how the lessons she gained from joining Chot Reyes and the TNT coaching staff in the PBA prepared her for her baptism of fire as a head coach in the pro league.

“You have to be open to learn things, unlearn things, and relearn things. You have to have the humility to admit to yourself that you do not know everything. Akala ko noon okay na ako as a coach since I knew the basics. I knew some plays. I was familiar with the UCLA, the dribble-drive, the triangle. Akala ko ‘yun na ang coaching.” 

(You have to be open to learn things, unlearn things, and relearn things. You have to have the humility to admit to yourself that you do not know everything. I thought I was a good coach since I knew the basics. I knew some plays. I was familiar with the UCLA, the dribble-drive, the triangle. I thought that was coaching already.)

“I learned that coaching is not just about the Xs and Os. It is also the connection you establish with your team. One of my biggest takeaways from coach Chot is the importance of having a relationship with your players and everyone on your team. That way, you will have the same mission, the same goal where you want to go as a team.”

Belen clarified the misconception that since coaches are not allowed on the bench during a 3×3 game, there is not much coaching that is happening.

The reality, she said, is there is actually more coaching in 3×3 since the head coach has to prepare the team for the entire 10 minutes of play. Everything from the opening play to the mid-game adjustments to dealing with penalty situations until the endgame has to be carefully planned out by the coaching staff and even simulated during practices. 

Going into the first leg of the 3×3 competition, Belen recalled the emotions she had to wrestle with.

“My biggest fear was to fail. I was so afraid because halos one week lang kami naghanda. I had everything in place. I had all the plays in my playbook. I planned everything that I wanted the players to do. The fear was something like ‘Will the players listen to me?’”

(My biggest fear was to fail. I was so afraid because we only prepared for nearly one week. I had everything in place. I had all the plays in my playbook. I planned everything that I wanted the players to do. The fear was something like “Will the players listen to me?”)

Then things fell into place when TNT plunged into action.

The Tropang Giga showed cohesion that was unexpected of a team which had very limited time to get to know each other. The team made up of players who were all out to show that they had game and they belonged in the PBA meshed fluidly with a rookie head coach who herself had something to prove to naysayers and doubters. The end result was another championship for the TNT franchise which was fresh off bagging the PBA Philippine Cup title. 

The journey for TNT continues as the team gears up for the fifth and sixth legs, and seeks to secure its spot in the grand finals.

Belen’s own journey, though, is but another step in her life mission to serve as a beacon of hope for other women who want to find their place in the world of sports. Her influence has extended to young girls who aspire to do well in basketball.

“It is very humbling when I get messages on social media, on Instagram, from girls who are 10 years old, 12 years old, 14 years old, who tell me they are inspired to keep playing. They ask for my advice. I find time to answer each one of them and to ask questions to get to know them better.”

Belen is living out a dream that merely a year ago seemed unimaginable. Now she has reached places and earned accolades that previously were not in the horizon for women in basketball. She has imposed on herself the pressure and the responsibility to do more for other women.

I can never call myself successful if ako lang ‘to, if after 10 years, ako pa rin lang ang andito. I want to see other women enter the door that I hope I played a part to open.

(I can never call myself successful if after 10 years, I’m still the only woman in this field. I want to see other women enter the door that I hope I played a part to open.) – Rappler.com