Jack Animam: ‘This is the year of women's basketball’
MANILA, Philippines – Gilas Women stalwart Jack Animam almost didn't achieve her dream ending for 2019, but everything fell into place for her to make history in Philippine basketball.
"I think this year is really redemption. This is the year of women’s basketball. We really wouldn’t want it any other way," said Animam.
"Like, gusto talaga namin makuha ’yung gold, and thank God na natupad namin ’yung goal namin," she said. (We really wanted to get the gold, and thank God that we were able to achieve that goal.)
Before the country's hosting of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Animam missed out on capturing National University's 6th straight UAAP women's basketball crown and cementing a record 96-0 winning streak due to an eye injury.
Last November, Animam joined Gilas Women in the FIBA Olympic pre-qualifying tournament, but sustained a hard blow near her eye and was under observation for a possible fracture.
The graduating NU Lady Bulldog was forced to remain in New Zealand until she was cleared to fly back to Manila, thus missing the UAAP women's basketball finals series between NU and the University of Santo Tomas.
"Noong sinabi ng doctor na possible fracture daw, sobrang nanghihina na ako, kasi knowing I have a championship series sa Pilipinas," said the devastated Animam. "Tapos alam ko na ’yung possible na mangyari na hindi ako makakauwi, so sobrang hirap lang din, pero wala ako magawa kasi sabi nga nila siyempre priority ’yung health ko pa rin."
(When the doctor told me that it was a possible fracture, I really felt weak because I knew that I still had a championshp series in the Philippines. Then I knew of the possibility that I wouldn't be able to go home, so it was really difficult. But I couldn't do anything about it because my health was the priority.)
It wasn't the UAAP exit she wanted at all as the NU captain could only watch her teammates from miles away when the Lady Bulldogs swept the finals series over back-to-back MVP Grace Irebu-reinforced UST on November 23.
Three days after missing the chance to suit up for NU one last time, Animam returned to the Philippines with an unexpected surprise from the Lady Bulldogs as they brought the awarding ceremony to NAIA.
More than just celebrating a historic feat in the collegiate league, Animam felt more motivated to turn her focus to the national team's stint in the 2019 SEA Games.
"Sobrang motivated talaga ako to get that gold kasi siyempre na-miss ko ’yung UAAP, ang tagal ko nawala. Sabi ko talaga sa sarili ko na ibibigay ko ang lahat," said Animam. "Lahat ng kung ano na-miss ko, kung ano hindi ko nalaro sa UAAP, may chance ako bumawi and eto nga iyon – ’yung SEA Games."
(I was really motivated to get that gold because, of course, I missed the UAAP and I was gone for so long. I told myself that I would give my all. For all that I missed and the games that I didn't get to play in the UAAP, now I have a chance to redeem myself in the SEA Games.)
Unlike the previous editions of the regional biennial meet, where the national women's basketball team would fail to sustain its strong start and fall short of a podium finish, Gilas Women harnessed a different mindset to cop the country's first women's basketball gold.
"Every game talaga, sobrang mahalaga. Bawal kami magrelax, bawal kami maging complacent, kasi hindi ko alam kung ano ’yung p’wedeng mangyari," said Animam on how the team approached this year's SEA Games.
"So kailangan talaga mag-focus ka and kung ano ’yung effort na ’binigay mo sa first game, dapat mas doble pa sa second game, mas triple pa sa next game," she said.
(Every game is important. We're not allowed to relax, we're not allowed to be complacent, because we didn't know what would happen. So we just had to focus and pour in more and more effort in the next games.)
Gilas Women's dominance also fueled the clamor of Filipina basketball players in establishing a professional league.
Now that Animam is leaving the collegiate scene, she is at the crossroads of pursuing a full-time corporate job as she still wants to turn professional in basketball.
"Talagang gusto ko maging pro, and umaasa ako na sana sa mga susunod na araw, magkakaroon ako ng women’s basketball league dito sa Pilipinas." said Animam. (I really want to turn pro, and I am hoping that there will be a women's basketball league in the Philippines for me to join.)
In 2019, Gilas Women had more international exposure as they made their debut in the Jones Cup and competed in the FIBA Women's Asia Cup.
Animam is slated to don the Philippines' colors again in the 2020 Jones Cup, where she hopes that the team can finally snag a breakthrough win. – Rappler.com