Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The World’s A Ball for Three Fil-Ams

This also appears in the Thursday, November 22 issue of Business Mirror.

There’s traveling in basketball. Just ask Amira Quintanilla Abou Issa. All six feet and two inches of her.

Amira, as she asks to be called, hails from Jacksonville, North Carolina, a coastal city by the Atlantic Ocean. “We don’t have beaches like they have in California, but it’s still pretty much a fun place to go to,” she related during an interview at the Regalia Towers in Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City. Issa is billeted there along with fellow Fil-Americans Melissa Jacob and Vicki Brick who will be joining the Philippine Women’s Basketball Team to the Bangkok Southeast Asian Games this December. “I tried to take up surfing until I got hit by a board on the head. I guess that was it for me and surfing because I concentrated on tennis and basketball from there.”

She was born to a Filipina mother and Syrian father in the United States and played Division III hoops for Meredith College from 2002-06. “I enrolled in Meredith and actually played two sports – tennis and basketball,” she recounted of her affinity to sports, but my height sort of pushed me towards hoops.”

After graduation (Amira took up International Business and Spanish), she took part in a couple of training camps in the Women’s National Basketball Association but instead she found herself playing in Bulgaria. “I actually never got to play because the club I went to released me because of sponsorship problems,” she recalled of the unfortunate incident. “I found out that this often happens to American players who try to play overseas. So instead I put in my time teaching English and Spanish to Bulgarians. I got my certification and could actually use it to find a job later on.”

Like her fellow Fil-Americans Brick and Jacob, Amira received an invitation via email from Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas Chairman Patrick Gregorio (Brick was discovered via google). “I was thinking of going to law school, but I couldn’t pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity,” she gleefully relates.

Jacob who went to the University of California-Irvine says that she was likewise excited about the opportunity to play for the Philippines. “An opportunity is an opportunity,” says the girl from Orange County. “MJ” as she is nicknamed, was born in the United States but her parents hail from Alaminos, Pangasinan. “Dad just loved to cook those traditional Filipino dishes."

She will share point guard duties on the Fritz Gaston-mentored team with Joan Grajales, Emelia Vega, and Brick. “She can shoot,” marveled national team center Cassy Tioseco of Jacob. Tioseco who is on her second tour of duty wearing the national colors, says that the inclusion of the Fil-Ams will hopefully augur well for RP Women’s basketball. “In the last SEABA, the other countries didn’t know what to expect from us. After we beat Thailand in the opening game everyone began to play us hard. We don’t know about their reinforcements, but neither do they know about us.”

Vicki Brick, the former Maryland Lady Terrapin point guard (she played from 1999-2004) who caught the women’s basketball world by surprise with her inclusion in the Philippine line-up concurs. “I heard that every team has beefed up their line-ups. We’re not just thinking about getting back at one team but playing everyone equally hard.”

Brick, who played recently with the Sydney Flames in Australia and idolizes former Houston Comet Cynthia Cooper and Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, is not a stranger to hard work. Growing up in Baltimore where she knew current Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, Brick was a gym rat. “I played serious tennis and nearly went to the Chris Evert Tennis Academy. I enjoyed soccer too and if I had any time away from sports, my parents would say, ‘let’s hit the gym.’ So that’s me – a fitness freak."

But by the time she was graduating from high school, letters of interest from colleges began pouring in. “I eventually decided that I’d have more fun in basketball,” she smiles.

Basketball has allowed the three girls to reconnect with their Filipino roots. While in Bulgaria, Amira alone and far from the comfort zone of family and friends was advised to go to the nearest local Catholic Church. “That’s where I’d find other Filipinos,” she says with a laugh. “Even back in North Carolina, I was exposed to the traditional cultural dances. I even learned how to dance the tinikling.”

Now that they’re playing for Team Philippines they are hoping that the media attention they and women’s basketball receives will help the game grow in the country. “Every bit of help for the game will mean well for us and for the sport,” says Brick.

And when it comes to Philippine women’s basketball, “In the SEABA a gold would have been really really great, but a silver – when you consider the country’s history in the sport – isn’t so bad. Now hopefully, we’ll do it one better this time now that MJ and Amira are with us,” sums up Brick who is clearly enjoying her stay and stint with the country.

“After all it’s an opportunity and I get to travel,” concludes Issa.

Muchos gracias to good friend Robin Tong for setting up the interview and the coffee.

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