SHE was first into it for the simple joy of partaking of a free snack.
Little did Alyssa Villamor know her love for basketball would blossom through the years, so much so she now finds herself on the verge of ending up as a likely candidate for a slot in an innovative, new reality program that aims to discover young Filipino cagers countrywide.
The native of Davao tried her luck in the Nike Rise tryouts over the weekend at the San Andres gym in Manila, and was lucky enough to stand out among the 235 aspiring basketball players who participated.
The 17-year-old was impressive enough to be selected as part of the 20 entries that comprised the Manila leg of the meet.
The only lady to be given a slot in the Big City leg, Villamor told her fascinating story in her humble hometown in Davao about how as a 10-year-old, she would always tag along her basketball-playing brother in various cage clinics just so she can partake of the free food being given at the end of the event.
“Noong bata pa ako may basketball clinic doon sa Davao, tapos ‘yun sumali lang ako kasi after ng clinic may merienda,” recalled Alyssa.
“So ayun pumunta ako. Nag clinic ako kasi si Kuya ‘yung kasama ko maglaro. Eh pumunta sina Kuya sa clinic, ako na lang ang naiwan (sa bahay) kaya sige join ako. Tapos ang nilu-look forward ko ‘yung merienda,” she added laughing.
Constantly attending clinics eventually made Alyssa appreciate the game, more so with his brother being a varsity player at the University of Immaculate Concepcion.
But the vision of taking the sport seriously never crossed her mind. Villamor said basketball then was no more than a hobby.
“Enjoy naman pero hindi looking forward na mag-varsity,” she said. “Kasi mindset ko lang makapagtapos ng pag-aaral kaya laro laro lang sa plaza.”
Her raw but unmistakable talent though seems to betray her words.
Playing at the plaza one day, a basketball coach approached her and offered her to play for a girls’ basketball team.
“Second year ako, ‘yung coach sa Davao nakita ako naglalaro sa plaza tapos ayun pinuntahan niya ako,” recalled the 5-foot-4 dribbler.
Alyssa wasn’t easy to persuade as she doubted the man who approached her. He turned out to be Daniel Culanggo, a basketball coach at the Assumption College of Davao.
“Sinabi niya na coach daw siya. Hindi pa nga ako naniwala kasi mas maliit pa siya sa akin. Sabi ko na lang, 'Sir, seryoso, coach ka talaga?'”
“Sabi niya, ‘Oo seryoso, coach ako’” she added. “Ang mindset ko kasi pag coach matangkad, lalaki. Pero sabi niya coach siya, kaya kinuha niya number ko then tinawagan niya ako.”
Soon after, Alyssa transferred from Our Lady of Fatima Academy to Assumption College of Davao on her third year in high school, specifically to play basketball.
“First year to second year walang basketball sa school ko, tapos sa Intramurals lang nakakalaro kasi laro-laro lang rin,” she said.
“Noon third year ko nag basketball na ako ng seryoso.Nalaman ko yung five on five, kung paano mag travel,” she recalled giggling.
In college she played for Ateneo de Davao for one year before she was recruited by Ateneo de Manila, where she is currently taking a one-year residency to be eligible to play in the UAAP.
Looking back, Alyssa couldn’t be grateful at how her simple joy as a kid could eventually lead to bigger things to come in her pursuit of being the best in her chosen field.
“(Zest-O) mango juice tapos pandesal,” she recalled. “Noong bata pa basta may pagkain ka masaya ka na. Ngayon may scholarship, food allowance, and dorm na ako.”
“Thankful po ako. Nagpapasalamat ako kay Lord, kasi ‘yun ang plan niya para sa akin and sana magtuluy-tuloy na,” she said as tears began to well in her eyes.