Jack Animam Embraces Being a Role Model For Young Filipinas

A Filipina baller continues to blaze a trail for both her sport and gender.

At just 25 years of age, Jack Danielle Animam has accomplished a whole lot more than other Filipinas her age. She is a five-time UAAP women’s basketball champion, four-time UAAP Mythical Selection member, two-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist, one-time UAAP MVP, and one-time UAAP Finals MVP.

In 2021, Jack also won a championship in Taiwan’s University Basketball Association while playing for Shih Hsin University. Later that year, she became the first Filipina basketball player to suit up professionally in Europe when she was signed up by ŽKK Radnički Kragujevac in the Women’s Serbian League.

Last year, she became the first Filipino player, male or female, to play professionally in mainland China after signing a contract with Wuhan Shengfan of the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association. And just recently, it was announced that she had signed with the Ringwood Hawks of Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL1).

All of this is simply a long-winded way of saying that Animam is one of the most decorated Filipino basketball player, regardless of gender, in local hoops history, as well as being a true pioneer of the women’s game. And even though she’s playing abroad now for the most part and hardly seen here, she’s already recognizable enough that young girls sometimes approach her to greet her.

“Yeah, meron,” Jack told The Game when asked about it. “(The fans say) ‘Napapanood kita’ or ‘Nakikita kita.’”

Of course, Jack is wise enough to know that with this newfound fame comes a bigger responsibility – that of being a role model for girls aspiring to become ballers themselves. And it’s a job that Jack takes as seriously as her professional contracts.

“Yes, I do consider myself a role model to young girls who are willing to play basketball on a bigger stage,” she said. “And also me, playing abroad as an import, I’m not just representing myself. I’m bringing the hopes of those young girls and also my teammates. I’m their representation. I have to be good so that people will look at me and say, ‘Oh, she’s a Filipina. Maybe there’s more like her.’”

The China experience

Jack Animam returned to the country in mid-March after completing her first season in China where she averaged 11.4 points and 12.1 rebounds in 35 games as a starter for Wuhan Shengfan. She herself admitted she looked good, a full two years after tearing both her ACL and MCL while playing Europe.

“Actually, it was far better than what I expected for myself. I think I exceeded even my own expectations,” she said. “It’s my first full season after coming back from an injury. I’m just happy and blessed to finish the season healthy. I set goals for myself and I exceeded my expectations. I know a lot of people have been doubting me since coming back from my injury, whether I’m the same Jack or I’m not good anymore. I think I even surprised or succeeded everybody’s expectations.”

It wasn’t all a bed of roses, though. Initially, Jack found it difficult to adjust to the league conditions.

Siguro the most challenging is iyong game schedule. Iyong home and away,” she admitted. “Travel, play, travel. Iyon iyong sobrang challenging. Parang, I did not anticipate this. Hindi ako sanay. First week ng season, umiiyak ako kasi parang ‘Kaya ko ba ito?’ Iyong pagod, byahe pa lang, six hours train ride, four hours train ride. Tapos gabi, pagdating doon magte-training ka pa. The next day training ulit and then gabi laro ka pa. Iyong katawan mo, kailangan you’re always ready. I guess that’s the main thing for me.

Kasi sa Europe, every weekend ang game. So you have more time to practice. You have time to travel and the recover and play. Sa China wala talaga. Home and away NBA style. Sunod-sunod talaga. The game comes by so fast.”

State of women’s basketball

It’s no coincidence that Jack Animam’s ascent has mirrored a similar rise in women’s basketball here in the Philippines. In 2017, the country made its first appearance in the eight-team Division A of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, with Gilas Women finishing at an all-time high of sixth place in last year’s edition. The Philippines has also won gold in women’s basketball in two of the last three stagings of the Southeast Asian Games.

And just last year, the country sent a women’s basketball team to the Asian Games for the first time in 25 years. That team, led by Jack, reached the quarterfinals.

“You know, it was our first time since 1998 na nagpadala ng babae sa Asian Games. And to be in the top eight, just wow,” she said. “It really just goes to show the work that this program has (done). Ito iyong bunga. And imagine if we’re being sent regularly. Baka we can do more than top eight.”

If only there were a steady, thriving women’s professional league in the Philippines, chances are Jack would have already etched her name in the league record books by now. More importantly, the women’s game would likely be more advanced.

“More exposure, more leagues,” Jack said when asked what else can be done. “Not just per season. Dapat every after one we’re focusing on the next. I know women’s basketball here in the Philippines is growing, but I think we can do more. We’ve come this far, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Not until we can achieve a sustainable professional league dito sa Pilipinas, we’re not stopping. Kasi those are the things na mayroon ang neighboring countries na wala tayo. It’s easy for them to choose who they’re gonna send to this kind of tournament. And that’s also the kind of preparation we don’t have.

“The best nga if we have three months’ preparation or a year’s preparation. But usually, we only have less than a month to prepare. And you expect us to perform at this level. I’m not saying that we can’t, but those teams that we play against, their preparation is long compared to us.

“Imagine if we have those kinds of preparation, I think we can already compete in the World Cup or the Olympics.”

Jack Animam has one last appeal to the country’s sports and industry leaders.

“Invest in women’s sports, especially women’s basketball. Right now we don’t have really a lot of sponsors. But look at the results. And imagine if we have that kind of support financially, we can do so much more.”

Banner image from FIBA.com and Sid Ventura.

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