Pinay league to address Perlas issue
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Former Adamson star Merenciana (Ewon) Arayi said yesterday the Perlas national basketball team’s collapse at the recent Southeast Asian (SEA) Games is precisely what the fledgling Pinay Ballers League (PBL) intends to address in providing an avenue for female cagers to extend their careers beyond college.

Arayi, 29, has played for the Philippine squad since the SEABA Championships in 2007 and is a three-time SEA Games veteran. After graduating from Adamson, she worked at a call center then was drafted by coach Haydee Ong for Perlas. Arayi has since been a full-time national player and receives an allowance from Ever Bilena as the primary sponsor of the Perlas program. She is currently applying to join the Philippine Navy.

Last year, Arayi formed the PBL owned by an SEC-registered non-profit organization called Ewon’s Sports Association, Inc. The PBL officers are Arayi as president, Krisnahlyn Catipon as vice president, Gie Sac as secretary, Nathaniel Joshua Catipon as treasurer and Editha Botecario as league commissioner. So far, the PBL has organized four tournaments and last week, started its fifth with 14 teams in the Aspirants Division at the La Consolacion College gym.

The inaugural tournament assembled 10 teams in the Developmental Division at the CEU gym last August to October. Coach Kat Garcia’s Latgu team, made up of PMI and PCCR players, won the first championship. The second tournament gathered 14 teams in the Developmental Division and 9 in the Elite Division with games held at the Rizal Memorial from November to December. Solecity of Pampanga took the Developmental crown while the Philippine Air Force took the Elite title.

The third tournament was staged with 14 teams in the Developmental Division and 14 in the Open Division at the CEU gym last January to April. Visayan Outrival bagged the Developmental title while Solecity won the Open crown. The fourth tournament featured 6 teams in the Elite Division with coach Bal Pera’s Philippine Navy beating coach Ronnie Cahanding’s Philippine Army, 2-1, in the best-of-three Finals. Another Elite Division tournament will start on Sept. 19 with Boy Cahanding taking over as commissioner with Botecario moving to the University of Makati as head coach. The games will be played at either the Philippine Navy gym or Arellano University on Taft.

Arayi said several Perlas players are seeing action in the PBL, including Allana Lim of the FEU Alumnae and Analyn Almazan, Cindy Resultay and Fria Bernardo of Philippine Air Force. Age limit for players is 45 with each lineup consisting of 8 to 20 players, two coaches and a statistician.

“PNP has players who are 40 and over in the Elite Division but they’re fit and competitive,” said Arayi. “We all play for the love of the game, nothing else. My experience in international basketball inspired me to organize the PBL last year. Teams that we used to beat in the SEA Games are now catching up because they have pro leagues where players can continue competing after college. I saw that in Singapore with Indonesia. I asked my friends in the Indonesian team why they’ve improved and they told me it’s because of their pro league. Their veterans get better and they’re able to recruit new players.”

At the recent SEA Games, Perlas got off on the wrong foot and lost to Thailand, 62-57, in the opener but roared back to beat Vietnam, 100-55, and Malaysia, 74-63. A win over Indonesia would’ve clinched the gold medal under the quotient system but the Philippines lost, 61-56. Perlas finished in fourth place after trouncing Singapore, 82-72. The 5-4 Arayi compiled seven assists against Vietnam, hit 15 points against Malaysia and collected 16 points and three dimes against Singapore.

Losing to Indonesia was a heartbreaker. Indonesia raced to a 21-9 lead but Perlas was ahead, 46-37, entering the fourth period. Indonesia led by three with 1:44 left then Perlas was up by a point, 56-55, before collapsing down the stretch to lose by five.  “It was the breaks of the game,” said Arayi. “We never thought we’d lose. Coach Pat (Aquino) kept reminding us not to relax. I don’t think we were overconfident. The game against Indonesia just wasn’t for us. We had two turnovers and couldn’t make a basket when they got back the lead. The difference between Indonesia and us was their players are always active because of the pro league while we form our team only when there’s a competition. We hope the PBL will make us tougher to win close games at the next SEA Games. If God gives me another chance, I’ll continue to play for Perlas.”

Arayi said the PBL wouldn’t be possible without the support of Ever Bilena/Blackwater’s Dioceldo, Silliman and Denice Sy, Army Shirt’s Nelson Dy, Great Awesome Uniforms’ Dennis Benedicto, SM’s Herson Sy and the Philippine Navy’s Col. Joseph Ferrous Cuison.

Arayi was only five months old when her Nigerian father Gabriel, a PCCR graduate of criminology, left the country to work in Lagos as a policeman. He returned when she was 16 and brought her from Bolinao, Pangasinan, where she lived with her mother Evangeline Rosete and an older sister, to Manila to enrol in a university. Coach Emelia Vega took Arayi in at Adamson. Arayi’s father is now a pastor in Chicago.

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