When you watch Janine Pontejos play basketball, she always plays hard. She always competes like she has a chip on her shoulder. She goes all out every time she’s on the floor because she’s constantly ready to prove herself.
When Pontejos began her journey representing the Philippines, she didn’t really expect to be a basketball player. She initially wanted to be a member of the country’s track and field team, but she found a passion for shooting hoops. Once she got into the Gilas Women program, she knew she immediately wanted to prove she belonged.
“Gusto ko talaga may patunayan pa ako para maging karapat dapat sa team,” she said.
Pontejos started playing basketball at the bright young age of eight years old in Batangas. She used to play with her older brother and his friends, sometimes even going to other barangays to compete. She was even part of a league despite being the only girl.
Throughout grade school and high school, she always knew she was athletic. Basketball for her grew from being a pastime to something more.
“Hobby ko lang talaga yung basketball. ‘Pag nakakakita ako ng bola, dun lang ako naglalaro,” she said. “Tapos nalaman ko may basketball na babae, nagkaroon ako ng opportunity na mag-tryout.”
On her path to becoming a star for Centro Escolar University, she underwent the rigors of being a student-athlete. After having 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM classes, she would go train for two to three hours. There also came a point when the practice schedule flipped, with training going from 4:00 AM to 6:00 AM before attending classes.
“Sobrang hirap maging student-athlete pero syempre nga may pangarap ka, gusto mong makatulong sa family mo, gusto mo maging successful,” she said. “Wala naman talagang madali kapag pinaghirapan mo.”
Pontejos’ unrelenting pursuit to be successful led her to become one of the faces of women’s basketball. One of the highlights of her career was being recognized as one of the deadliest shooters in the game when she won the FIBA 3×3 World Cup shootout in 2018.
“Parang tumaas lalo yung tingin nila sakin kasi tingin nila sakin,” she said when she won in the 3-point contest.
She’s heard the haters all her life. From people protesting her place on Gilas to questioning her small frame, she stood through it all.
“Parang hindi ka dapat nasa team na yan kasi mukhang walang ibubuga eh,” she recalled what people would say.
“Pero sobrang pinatunayan ko sa sarili ko na may kaya rin ako,” she went on. “Na kaya kong makipaglaban sa ibang malalaking players. Ang sarap sa feeling na nakuha ko ‘yung ginto at nakuha ko yung respeto nila.”
In 2019, she cemented herself in Philippine women’s basketball lore when she won twin gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games, playing for the 3×3 and 5-on-5 squads to claim historic victories in both events.
After her SEA Games achievement, she decided to join the Philippine Army. She wanted to be a role model on and off the court—as a soldier and as a basketball player.
“Nag-tryout ako maging soldier-athlete dahil sa talent ko. Gusto ko ipakita na hindi lang pang field yung sundalo kundi pang court din,” she said. “Malaking bagay yung mapanood kami para mabigyan namin sila ng inspirasyon na posible pala mag basketball ang babae na makakarating sa ganito — na magiging sundalo tapos basketball ang magiging daan para makatulong ka sa family mo.”
Pontejos continued to represent the country, recently leading Gilas Women in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup. The Philippines was able to retain its Division A status after the hard-fought tournament. As the team captain and one of the longest-tenured members of the team, she continues to prove to others that Gilas Women is more than capable of competing on the world stage.
“Yung SBP sobrang laking tinulong para sa amin,” she said. “Sila yung nag angat samin, sila yung nagbigay uli ng buhay sa women’s basketball.”
“Pangarap ko sana magtuloy-tuloy yung suporta nila sa women’s basketball. Sana hindi sila mapagod sa amin. Sana lagi sila magtiwala na kaya rin namin kung ano ginagawa ng men’s, kaya rin namin bigay sa women’s.”