The one percent
Gupilan paves unlikely path with hard work and determination
Published: Sunday, February 9, 2014
Updated: Sunday, February 9, 2014 20:02
Margeaux Gupilan is a statistical anomaly.
She’s 5-foot-7, Filipino and plays Division I basketball.
In the 2010-11 season – Gupilan’s freshman year at UB – less than 1 percent of Division I women basketball players were Asian (45 of 4,820 players, totaling 0.93 percent). In the 2012-13 season, this number dropped to 0.5 percent. Of the 4,972 athletes, only 27 were Asian, according to NCAA.org.
"[During] warm-ups, I know, who sees a small Filipino girl?” Gupilan said. “They look at you and look the other way. When game time comes, I love it when they say, ‘You need to watch where she goes, pick her up, where’s No. 15?’”
Gupilan, a senior, is the starting point guard for the women’s basketball team. The Sun Valley, Calif., native started 28 games last season and emerged as one of Buffalo’s key playmakers. She’saveraging 7.9 points and 4.6 assists this season and leads the team with 31.4 minutes a game.
“Always being doubted or overlooked has probably been with me my entire life,” she said. “It’s like that little fire in me when I play. The feeling of, ‘You should have never doubted me,’ is the best feeling ever, especially since I’ve worked so hard for it.”
When she goes home to Sun Valley, family, friends and strangers want to talk and congratulate her. Her little cousins and their friends tell Gupilan they want to be like her.
“I was shocked,” Gupilan said. “I didn’t know I could be an inspiration to other people,” she said, noting she regularly receives supportive phone calls, text messages, emails and Facebook messages. She said the outpouring motivates her. She wants to impress all those watching.
Gupilan said it doesn’t add extra pressure. If others look up to her, she wants it to be due to her work ethic – something her father instilled in her at a young age.
Basketball wasn’t an immediate love for Gupilan, according to her father, “King” Gupilan. In fact, she stumbled into it when she was pulled from the stands to sub in one of her older sister’s games. She was only 8 – two years younger than the others – but she jumped in happily.
Gupilan said she “probably hated basketball” for the first few years because of how much work her father made her put in. She remembers not being allowed to come in for dinner until she made a certain amount of shots. She was only 9.
“I would go into my room crying,” Gupilan said. “There were nights I wouldn’t even talk to my dad because he was so hard on me.”
Even after coming home from a practice or camp, King made her go through her workouts again in the backyard. Gupilan’s friends would call and ask if she wanted to get pizza, but she had to wait until her driveway basketball workouts were over.
“He never really told me, but I knew he was always preparing me for something beyond what was going on in that moment,” Gupilan said. “It was tough love.”
Gupilan’s sister, Amanda, was a local basketball standout. Growing up, the two played one-on-one in their backyard for hours.
Amanda noticed Gupilan’s basketball IQ just from their games at home. Gupilan wouldn’t let her shoot – which was her strong point. Instead, she forced Amanda to dribble around so Gupilan could swipe the ball away.
Basketball is popular in Sun Valley – a largely Asian community. Gupilan said there were always pick-up games in parks around the city.
When Gupilan began playing in organized leagues, she was taller than most of the girls her age. She was a post player until high school.
After her transition to guard, because everyone else either caught up or eclipsed her in height, Gupilan still had tremendous post skills, which separated her from most of the other guards in the league. She still, however, felt she had something to prove.
“Every single time Margeaux plays, she’s trying to knock over something and convince people that [she] belongs,” King said. “Everywhere you go, there will be doubters. People saying, ‘You aren’t big or athletic enough,’ but Margeaux would just take the negatives into positives.”
She comes from an athletic background. Her father was one of 11 children, who all played basketball, and Manny Pacquiao is one of her uncles. Some family members played professional basketball in the Philippines. Her family competes against other families around the neighborhood, and the games can get physical, with small fights occasionally breaking out.
Amanda, her cousin Shelly and Gupilan were separated by three classes in high school. The trio played together at Bellarmine-Jefferson High School. Gupilan played varsity since her freshman year and won the school’s first state championship as a junior.
Her family’s large-scale support was evident during those games. Gupilan described the environment around her games as a party. Sometimes, her family would have a barbecue outside the arena before and after the games.
“We would go to games, and I’m not exaggerating, there would be at least 50-75 people with just their family to come out and support for the games,” said Brian Camacho, Gupilan’s high school coach.