Like many Pinay hoopers, Bea Daez-Fabros thought her basketball career was over after she wrapped up her collegiate stint with the UP Fighting Maroons.
Daez-Fabros pursued a full-time corporate job but remained close to the sport as she became the first-ever female basketball analyst in the UAAP. She found her way back to the court by landing a spot in the Gilas Women team, which for a long time, was the only path that female basketball players in the Philippines could take if they wanted to continue playing in major tournaments.
When Daez-Fabros gave birth to her first child over three months ago, she thought -- for the second time -- that she was done playing hoops. Until the WNBL, the Philippines' pioneer professional women's league, named her as its first-ever ambassador.
"I'm a new mom so I thought I'd have a new career already, but then it's like a pleasant surprise," she said. "I was very happy because maybe it's a way of letting me know that I still have unfinished business with women's basketball."
Since the WNBL got the green light to turn pro last August, a diverse set of players have expressed their desire to join -- from former superstars to current Gilas mainstays to fresh graduates. Even Filipino-Americans based outside the country are interested. Daez-Fabros is doing her part by answering all their questions and sharing information about the league.
"For those whose basketball careers already stopped, now knowing about the WNBL, they all want to go back for one last ride," Daez-Fabros said, mentioning some of the finest Pinay basketball icons such as Raiza Palmera, Allana Lim, and Ewon Arayi. "Our idols when we were young, now they all want to join. Young and old, everyone will be in one league. So that thought in itself makes me excited to be able to watch them or even play against them."
Daez-Fabros was part of the WNBL's inaugural season, back when it was still an amateur league, suiting up for the Cleon and Clyde Lady Snipers. Launched in April 2019, the WNBL featured seven teams bannered by the eventual champions PSI Lady Air Defenders.
"I saw the potential of the league even last year. It was highly competitive," said Daez-fabros. "The games were shown on Facebook and on TV. You can also see the effort of the league to make it different. I'm happy that they took it one step further by making it a professional league."
For its maiden pro season slated next year, the WNBL looks to showcase 10 to 12 teams. Executive vice president Rhose Montreal shared that they already received at least 17 applications, subject to financial assessment. Unlike last year when the players were just given allowances on a game-day basis, teams will now be required to pay monthly salaries, hence the need for a more stringent screening.
Female basketball players rallied to have a local league because they wanted to continue pursuing their passion, for their love of the game. But the ultimate hope is to make it a viable career path for women in the future.
"It's already 2020, so it's about time we accept everyone for who they are. Short hair, long hair, short shorts, long shorts, whatever your gender preference." Bea Daez-Fabros
"I'm not after the pay. I'm after my love for basketball, to be able to play in a highly competitive level again," said Daez-Fabros. "I do know, of course, that there are players who would want to use basketball as a means for living. The great thing about this, with the new rules that there will be a monthly salary, I feel like it can be a sustainable job for girls eventually."
Daez-Fabros believes that the WNBL's move to turn pro will lead to more support from all stakeholders -- the players, the media, the sponsors, and potential team owners -- which is essential for the league's sustainability.
"I think by making it a professional league, it provides legitimacy to the league itself," said Daez-Fabros. "There's now a platform but for it to become a success, it has to have all the pieces there to be able to have continuity, for the league to last for a long time. I know there are a lot of leagues that did not click because the pieces were not complete. Hopefully now, with enough support, the WNBL can succeed."
More than 300 players have submitted their applications for the WNBL draft in October, hoping to be part of this historic milestone in Philippine women's basketball. Daez-Fabros, for her part, is still undecided given that she's still recovering from her cesarean operation last May.
"I really do want to play. I think it's more about the timing of the league since I just had a baby," said Daez-Fabros. "I heard that the draft combine will be held in October and I'm not sure if I'll be ready by then. I'm starting to work out already just in case."
DAEZ-FABROS has been a trailblazer in women's basketball, not just for players but also for those behind the scenes. By accepting the UAAP analyst role in 2017, she opened the doors for other aspiring female broadcasters.
"I had so many doubts just because it wasn't the norm. But at the same time, I took it upon myself to think of it as something bigger than myself. As cliché as it sounds, it's the truth," said Daez-Fabros. "If it was just me, I was really so hesitant about being a female analyst. But when I thought about the impact of it in women's basketball, in women's sports in general, in creating history, in creating a big change, that's when I told myself that maybe I could do it."
As the WNBL ambassador, Daez-Fabros is once again using her platform and influence to help elevate women's basketball in the country. She also wants to promote gender equality in sports. After Gilas Women proved their worth in the SEA Games and FIBA tournaments, she's looking forward to seeing more Pinay basketball players shine through the WNBL.
"It's already 2020, so it's about time we accept everyone for who they are. Short hair, long hair, short shorts, long shorts, whatever your gender preference," said Daez-Fabros. "Personally, I really want people to know that there's so much talent in women's basketball. People just need to give us a chance because we were really never given a chance to show people what we've got."
Having a pro women's league will also be beneficial for the national team in the long run. More talents will be discovered and a high-level women's competition will exist.
"There are some players that we may not see in the UAAP or the WNCAA that can join the WNBL, who may be really good and qualified to be part of the national team. All those things are linked together," said Daez-Fabros, noting that Gilas Women used to scrimmage against high school men's teams for lack of available competitors.
It's a great time to be a women's basketball player in the Philippines right now. Girls may have been discouraged to pick up a basketball before, knowing that there is no future for them in their home country beyond college. Now, they have female role models to look up to -- those who changed the perception that basketball is a man's sport, those who trained hard to compete despite the lack of exposure, and those who persistently demanded for a league of their own.
It's just the beginning of a long journey for the WNBL. Being granted a professional status does not guarantee success. It will take an entire ecosystem of sports stakeholders to make sure that it will stay afloat for many years. But the important thing, for now, is that it was able to hurdle the first step. And it has given different generations of female players a reason to continue dreaming.
"For all the young female ballers, continue to love the sport. Right now, you can dream so much more, you can dream so much bigger because women's basketball is currently on the rise," said Daez-Fabros. "I'm just so happy that we've created a legacy for all the young female ballers to dream even more. Everyone just wants to be part of history."