Jack Animam: The voice of women’s basketball

Jack Danielle Animam knows only one way to play basketball.

Intense. All out. Purposeful.

"Everytime I am on the court, I always give my 100% so that I will not have any regrets after. Giving my all in every game comes naturally to me," stated Animam matter-of-factly. 

Her long list of accomplishments is a testament to her trademark of leaving everything on the floor whenever she plays.

At the age of 16, she was the youngest member of the national team that qualified to Asia Level I during the 2015 FIBA Women’s Championship. She is a UAAP MVP and finals MVP as part of the National University Lady Bulldogs which established the longest winning streak of any sport in Philippine collegiate history.

She anchored the Gilas women’s team which made the quarterfinals of the 2019 FIBA Asia 3x3. She was a double gold medalist in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games after winning titles in both the 5 on 5 and 3x3 events. (Jack Animam: ‘This is the year of women's basketball’)

Born to Ayo Jackson Animam and Erlinda Sto Tomas, Jack is from Malolos, Bulacan.

"I grew up with my siblings. My mother was an oversess Filipino worker (OFW). I was an ordinary girl enjoying a simple life in the province where I grew up playing trumpo (spinning tops), jolens (marbles), pogs, Chinese garter, and jackstone,” she recalled with a laugh. 

There was nothing ordinary, though, about Animam’s dreams to make a name for herself and make an impact in society. 

On the floor, she is a vocal teammate who acts as an extension of her coach. She is often the emotional leader who serves as the fulcrum of the team’s interior, whether it be on offense or defense. Animam has literally spilled sweat, blood, and tears in her journey to becoming arguably the best low post presence in Philippine basketball.

Last year, she suffered an eye injury during the FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying tournament which sidelined her during the UAAP finals. But her big heart would not allow her to sit out the SEA Games where she played wearing a mask to protect her injury and was still instrumental in the two title wins of the Gilas Women’s Team.

She attributes her growth as a player to Coach Patrick Aquino, the architect of the historic runs of both the NU squad and Gilas Pilipinas.

"90% of my development as a player is because of Coach Pat. He has taught me a lot of things, but what really stood out for me is the idea that if I really want things to happen, I should go for it and take full resposibility for it," said Animam. 

Feeling lost

There was a point, however, when she lost the drive to continue to challenge herself.

"Nakaramdam ako ng burnout. Parang isang umaga, 'pag gising ko, I lost all of my motivation to play. Ayoko ng magtrain or maglaro. Gabi-gabi, naiiyak ako. Hindi ko mahanap 'yung purpose kung bakit ako naglalaro. Ang hirap kasi 'yung mga tao sa paligid mo, nakilala kang strong at masayahin. Ang bigat sa pakiramdam. Dumating ako sa point na hindi na talaga ako masaya maglaro," shared Animam. 

(I felt the burnout. I woke up one morning, I lost all of my motivation to play. I didn't want to train or play. I was crying every night. I couldn't find my purpose of playing. It's so hard when you see that the people around you are strong and happy. It's a heavy feeling. It came to a point that I wasn't having fun playing basketball.) 

Perhaps, that phase in Animam’s career mirrors the general state of women’s basketball in the Philippines.

In a country that is crazy about the sport, the women’s side is considered a mere afterthought by most of the major stakeholders. It is easy for a lady hoopster to become disillussioned in an environment where a female player is often objectified and is treated as a 2nd class athlete.

This was most evident in the women’s 3x3 tournament organized by the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in 2016 where players were referred to as "Baller Hotties" and were disallowed to wear long shorts and have short hair. 

In the face of these glaring cases of sexism and discrimination, Animam has emerged as a champion of women’s rights and the beacon in their struggle for recognition and equality. 

She has spoken in the past against the practice of local media coming up with features on female athletes that focus on their looks instead of their skills and playing abiities. She has been the loudest in clamoring for the establishment of a women’s professional league. 

This conscious decision to serve as the voice of women’s basketball was triggered by her experience in the 2018 FIBA 3x3 World Cup held at the Philippine Arena. It was one of the rare instances when Animam played in a packed venue in front of Filipino fans. That ignited a fire in her belly that has remained lit and has fueled her love for the game even more.

"That was when I felt I needed to speak in behalf of Filipina ballers and inspire others. Kaya every time na maglalaro ako, gusto kong laging manalo. Ibinibigay ko 'yung 100% ko kasi I want to change people’s perspective, na hindi lang pang-lalake yung basketball. Kahit sino, kayang maglaro nito," she declared with conviction.

(That was when I felt I needed to speak in behalf of Filipina ballers and inspire others. That's why every time I would play, I always want to win. I give my 100% because I want to change people's perspective that basketball is just not for guys. Anyone can play basketball.) 

"This game is my passion, and I believe women deserve to have the same opportunities as those in men’s basketball." 

Looking ahead

At 22 years old, Animam still has so much she still wants to accomplish. She has received offers to play collegiate basketball abroad, a path which she hopes will eventually lead to offers to play professionally.

Animam is the first Filipina to be named Ms Basketball by the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA), a recognition that she richly deserves.

She realizes her stature has given her a platform to inspire young girls who want to become athletes or simply better individuals. It is a responsbility that she does not shy away from.

"Gusto kong maging role model sa kanila. Kapag may gusto silang marating na kahit parang imposible, kung sisikapin nilang marating 'yun, kahit anong hirap ng buhay o kahit anong dami ng mga pagsubok, malalagpasan nila 'yun at ma-a-achieve nila 'yung gusto nila. Basta huwag silang magpapadala sa mga sasabihin ng ibang tao."

(I want to be role model for them. If they want to reach an impossible goal, they should just work hard because they'll get there. No matter how hard life is or how many challenges they face, they'll be able to surpass them and achieve what they want. They shouldn't be affected by what other people say.) – Rappler.com