Even when she was still playing for Centro Escolar University as the team’s leading scorer, Janine Pontejos is someone you would mistake for an athlete.
The reason? The many-time national women’s basketball player is lanky, and that is being kind. But once she goes inside the playing court and explodes with her unique and awkward shooting style from the three-point area, then your opinion changes right away.
And the fact is, even with that kind of physique, watch her play defense. She plays an honest one, and pesky would be a good way to describe it. Against usually, bigger and stronger opponents, she is willing to bang bodies with her opponents and get banged in return.
I do not know how many will remember Larry Mumar in the early late 60s to mid 70s, the son of legendary Lauro “The Fox” Mumar. Larry was likewise a thin player and when he made it into his father’s team, people said it was because his dad was the coach.
But he proved them wrong. The shifty Larry, who earned the moniker “The Little Fox”, showed he had the right to be there. It is the same with the 29-year-old Janine, who has four MVP awards in the WNCAA, and another four in the National Association of State Colleges and Universities, to go with the nine titles she helped bring to CEU.
In a video chat, Janine admitted her slight physique is a disadvantage on the court, but that it does not preclude her from playing both ends of the court, particularly her three-point shooting.
In fact in 2018, right here in the Philippines, when we hosted the FIBA Asia 3x3, Janine, notwithstanding her unorthodox way of shooting those treys, surprised everyone, including herself after emerging as 3-point champion in a mixed field of participants that included male players.
She believes she has a fast body metabolism that no matter what she does and eats, her body simply refuses to gain weight, and believe me, I have seen her eat when I did a team-building in Mt. Banahaw several years ago for the CEU Lady Scorpions, where she was an assistant.
Actually, Janine is athletics’ loss and basketball’s gain. She started as a high and long-jumper with De La Salle-Lipa before shifting to basketball, playing the two disciplines simultaneously, and eventually picking basketball.
She was spotted, then recruited by CEU when she played with De La Salle in the Women’s Basketball League of the late Nic Jorge.
And it did not take long for her to make it to the national team. Starting in 2016, she has been a regular with the team, the last time just recently from Jordan for the FIBA Asia Cup, where the Philippines retained its spot in Group A, finishing 7th. She was also a member of the 2019 South East Asian Games champion team.
The team is looking at defending its crown at the SEA Games in Vietnam next year, while head coach Patrick Aquino said his wards will also be eyeing a stint in the qualifying FIBA Cup in Australia after that.
She also mentioned the offer she got to play as an import in a commercial league in Malaysia in 2018, something she opted to pass on, though her teammates like Afril Bernardino, Gemma Miranda and Chack Cabinbin did play there. Janine was still an assistant coach for CEU that time.
Unfortunately, even as Janine says women’s basketball has improved a lot the last several years, with more international exposure and more assistant coaches, who focus on players’ specific skills, 2022 might just be her last playing year with the national team as she turns 30, saying it is time to give way to younger players.
Aquino, who looks at Janine as one of the team’s veterans might not agree as he wants her to stay and teach up-and-coming players.
Whatever, Janine plans to continue playing for the Philippine women’s team as long as she can, maybe even in the first women’s professional basketball league here if the circumstances will allow her.
That is Janine Pontejos, a player, who I would say has earned her place in Philippine basketball.