Perlas Pilipinas ace Melissa Jacob always thought that the pinnacle of her international basketball career was winning the gold in the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA) women’s championship at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium back in 2010.
The Filipinas did not only win gold in front of their home fans, but it was a feeling the women’s squad had never felt in the past.
To be part of that team is truly a wonderful feeling. It was a perfect moment for the nationals to end the dominance of rival Thailand as they won their first-ever gold medal in the tournament’s then 15-year history, 76-54.
Four years after, just when Jacob thought her career would wind down to various basketball clinics and occasional international meets, another keystone moment found its way to the 5-foot-9 Perlas forward.
Jacob was left scrambling on a Wednesday morning after getting news she will be the Philippines’ flag-bearer for the 4th Asian Beach Games in Phuket, Thailand.
“My former teammate Ford (Grajales) was the one who atually broke the news to me. Coach Haydee (Ong) wanted it to be a surprise but Ford is like the team’s insider. I honestly thought she was messing around,” Jacob told Sports Desk Online.
She was hesitant at first; she didn’t want to believe. But what her teammate said was a reality.
“After I realized she was serious, I got a bit emotional. It’s such prestigious responsibility to be the flag bearer and I’m speechless that they would consider me for it let alone choose me as the flag bearer.”
“I think winning the SEABA gold in 2010 is the pinnacle of my career so far. But, maybe after I actually go through the ceremony it might be a tough call.”
“Never in a million years would I have thought to be the flag bearer. I was always jealous of the sports who got to actually participate during the opening ceremonies. “I think I’ve only been to one in all the competitions if participated in.
Jacob, then based in California where she works as an assistant manager for a retail store, started her Perlas Pilipinas career in 2007 along with Cassy Tioseco and Vicky Brick, leading the nation to a bronze in the SEA Games in Thailand.
Not satisfied with her performance in that edition, Jacob wanted to redeem herself, although she had to juggle the time between playing hoops and work.
“I played in the 2007 SEA Games, I felt as though I did not play as well as I could have. I made a promise to myself that if I ever got another opportunity to play for the Philippines again, I would,” she said.
Doors opened again in 2010. Jacob, who kept in touch with Perlas head coach Haydee Ong, was offered a slot as the Philippines geared for what eventually became a gold-medal clinching tournament.
“I found out about SEABA in 2010 and I had already planned a vacation in February of that year, so while I was here I went to practice and asked coach if I could join the team again.”
However, Ong reminded Jacob if she wishes to rejoin the crew, it should be a full-time commitment.
“She said I would have to try out and stay to practice with the team and that nothing is guaranteed. Luckily, things worked out,” Jacob shared.
With her love for the sport and dedication to playing for the country, Jacob made her move to the Philippines and stayed her for good.
“I think every opportunity to represent the Philippines is a big opportunity. I get to go out, compete, represent the country, and hopefully make the country proud. When you have the flag on your chest, you can not take it for granted. There’s a sense of pride that comes with it, whether it’s during our tune up games against the local hs boys or when we are at our actual competition.”
Perlas’ own MJ
In hoops parlance, the two letter MJ is only synonymous to Michael Jordan, the best to ever play the sport.
Jacob says it “cool” to be called the same nickname back in Perlas training.
“MJ has actually been my nickname since middle school. I think my coach at the time was the first to call me that and it’s stuck. It’s kinda cool.”
“In high school I was the number 13 and in college 22. When it came to international ball the numbers are only 4-15, 13 was already taken and I was at a dilemma at what number to choose. I chose 9 because that’s the number MJ was on the dream team.”
Jacob also suited up for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship for Women and averaged 8.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, hitting 30 percent of her three-point field goals in five outings.
In the 3×3 basketball event in Thailand, Jacob will be joined by other mainstays Lhen Flormata, Denise Tiu, Camille Sambile, and Mary Joy Galicia.
The Philippines is in Group A with China, Mongolia, and India. In Group B are Chinese Taipei, Turkmenistan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
The top two nations per group will advance to the crossover semifinals.
At stake in the 4th Asian Beach Games are 51 gold medals, and the Philippines will also parade athletes in wind surfing, sailing, and handball, among other sports.
Jacob then quoted a saying: “One generation plants the trees while the other enjoys the shade.
“I would like to think I was part of the foundation of women’s basketball here in the Philippines that catapulted more girls into enjoying the game. Our team has a great track record in our competitions and we have grassroots programs to get more girls involved in basketball,” she proudly said.
More than the honor of carrying the red, white, and blue, it’s the legacy Jacob left that she hopes would last and carry over in the next generations to come.
“I would rather be known as a part of the team that helped inspire a new generation of girl hoopers rather than for people to know me individually.”