Proud of his Pangasinense roots: Basketball freestyler Scalia Nethanial




By Jonas Egan Reyes, published July 22, 2020

Despite the fame and adulation Scalia Nethanial has earned in Kuala Lumpur, the 25-year old freestyler still considers a small town in northwestern Philippines as his true home.

The hustle and bustle of Malaysia’s Garden City of Lights - for Scalia – has no match to the peace and tranquility of his hometown Dumpay, a barangay in the municipality of Basista. Currently a freestyle performer in Kuala Lumpur, Scalia never forgets his Filipino roots which he traces back to this Pangasinan town, widely known as the “Orchestra Capital” of the province.

Currently unable to leave Malaysia due to the government-imposed lockdown, Scalia looks forward to catching the first flight out to Manila once travel and health restrictions ease.

Kings of the Court PH caught up with the young PUMA brand ambassador recently to recount his rise in the world of freestyle basketball.

Humble beginnings

Performing as young as 14 years old, Scalia remembers the first open performance he ever had. Way before those school presentations and sold-out stage shows, teen-aged Scalia started off showcasing his skills before a relatively small crowd.

“My first-ever performance was in 2009. Actually back then, I wasn’t really anything. I just wanted to gain experience. I was a big fan of the culture of street ball. It was a big passion of mine growing up. It was like in a backyard I think, or like a barbecue party at a friend’s place,” recounted Scalia, who also works as a Senior Social Media and Branding executive for a Malaysia-based company.

That served as a launchpad for Scalia, as his performances shifted to bigger venues, getting into mainstream media and drawing more people - to eventually land a spot on the AND1 Mixtape Tour.

“From the backyards, I started performing in high schools in Malaysia. They’ll have an open night and I’ll get invited every year. There are loads and loads of street ballers and freestylers. But no one was really that unique. People were just doing the basic stuff. But I started bringing in a lot of original stuff. And I started taking it to a mainstream platform,” shared Scalia.

“I started going on TV. I was the first Malaysian-Filipino freestyler to have my own segment on popular TV shows. It kind of grew from there. 2010 was when I joined AND1. I toured with AND1 all around Malaysia,” he added.

A self-confessed Kobe Bryant and Philip “Hot Sauce” Champion fan, Scalia eventually met his other basketball hero thru AND1 – “The Professor” Grayson Boucher. Known worldwide as one of the best freestyle basketball performers, it was Boucher who proved instrumental in kickstarting Scalia’s career.

“The Professor and me are friends. He was also the one who selected me to become part of AND1. He was a judge and he came to Malaysia and he selected me to win. I was the champion of AND1 Malaysia,” recalled Scalia.

Missing home

Whenever his schedule permits, Scalia finds time to travel back home to the Philippines to visit relatives in Dumpay. In fact, the Filipino-Malaysian entertainer is eager to push through with a planned return to Manila on September.

In his freestyle performances, Scalia makes it a point to pay homage to his mother’s home country.

“I represent them all the time. Here in Malaysia now, whenever I perform, it is not longer ‘Scalia Nethanial, freestyle champion’. I make sure they put the Philippine flag as my background. Or sometimes I make sure they say I came all the way from the Philippines,” he shared.

“Honestly, I really love the Filipino culture. It’s very lively. If I were to work, I prefer doing it in Malaysia. But if I were to stay long term and be with family, I would definitely choose the Philippines. It’s much more happier there.”

But what does Scalia really long for in the Philippines? Despite making it big in Kuala Lumpur as a freestyle hoops icon, a unique element of the Filipino culture constantly pulls Scalia back home.

“For me, it’s that feeling of having a family. Most of who I am today is because of Malaysia. I earned it here. But what I wanted to do was to share more of my personality as a Filipino. In fact, not a lot of people know I’m a Filipino until I went back last year and started doing some performances. People think I’m pure Malaysian. What I can’t find here is more of that family feeling. It’s like when I go out over there in the Philippines, I feel like it’s home. Over here, I feel like it’s business. It’s my home away from home. But I feel more at home when I am at Dumpay in Pangasinan,” shared Scalia.

His future plans

Currently, Scalia reaches out to his followers on social media via Instagram and a newly-created YouTube channel. With live shows and performances shelved in Malaysia, Scalia treats his fans with entertaining reviews of various PUMA products. Apart from PUMA, Scalia also represents Manila-based baller community Hype Streetball.

But once the lockdown gets lifted in Kuala Lumpur, expect Scalia to jump back to the stage to wow big crowds with his basketball artistry.

“It was crazy because before this, I was getting burned out because I performed way too much. In a month, I perform like four times. I would do shows all the time. When the lockdown happened, it made me realize the stuff that you take for granted. So I just want to go out there and perform again. In Malaysia, they are allowing events now slowly. COVID-19 is not that bad anymore. The goal is to go out there and perform again,” narrated Scalia.

“Before the lockdown, I actually put out a status on Facebook, saying I want to compete internationally this year. I wanted to battle and get the world championship. That’s one of my goals. I want to carry both the Malaysian and Filipino flags over there.”

Finally, Scalia share his outlook on the freestyle basketball scene.

“I use freestyle basketball as a tool to reach out to more people. I would love to reach out to more people get them to do stuff that are healthy, that can bring them something in life that can get them to move forward and progress. I feel that freestyle is very universal. What I would love to see is more people doing freestyle.”