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COVER STORY: Jack Animam is back, stronger than ever

The hearts of Gilas Women are now beating as loud as ever. Jack’s comeback has a lot to do with that.

There was a big void in the hearts of the women’s basketball community in the Philippines for a couple of years. That void was where five-time UAAP champ and national team gold medalist Jack Animam used to be.

She flew overseas to sharpen her game, then got hurt, and had to go through a long and winding journey to recovery. After all of that, Jack came home to help lead Gilas Pilipinas Women to a silver medal at the 32nd SEA Games and to their best finish in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup.

The hearts of Gilas Women are now beating as loud as ever. Jack’s comeback has a lot to do with that.

SLAM PHILIPPINES: What was the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the 2023 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup tournament? 

JACK ANIMAM: I think this is the year that I felt we really do belong in Asia’s top best. I think if you watch the games, you could see it. No matter what the odds are, the hype, some of [my teammates] are college players, but we can compete. We definitely do have the skills and the talent. I think it’s just the heart and love for the game – it’s really there. My biggest takeaway from that is that we really do belong. 

S: How do you feel about the team’s growth during this tournament? 

J: We put in a lot of effort, we sacrificed so much. What we’ve been through, just going to the FIBA Asia Cup, the things we’ve been through prior to the tournament, it was exhausting. Most of us felt under the weather, some had a flu like Janine [Pontejos], Khate [Castillo] has been sick for almost five days. I feel like she just really kind of recovered when we took on New Zealand and Korea. But the first three games, she was off. It was exhausting. Not just physically, but also mentally. But we pushed through. Seeing my teammates push aside all those things that they felt and still play the way they did, I’m just really proud of my teammates and my team with how we handled this FIBA Asia Cup. 

S: How did you develop as both a team player and leader for Gilas?

J: Personally, I came back with the National Team during the SEA Games. But during then, I was really having a hard time finding my footing. I missed out on a lot and I was still recovering from my injury. I told myself I’m not satisfied with how I played, I know I can still do more. I just felt like I needed to take a little step back and process everything and take it one day at a time, we go back to zero. All the things that my coaches told me, what my teammates told me, I’m just trying to be a sponge learning everything. Then I told myself, this coming FIBA Asia Cup, I’m going to do whatever it takes and do whatever the team needs me to do. I feel like I’m more mature, I’m more patient, and just really holding my team together – non-stop, constantly talking to them – I’m just happy with the way I played and it just goes to show the trust and the confidence of my teammates with me and the coaches. That’s why I was able to do the things I did with the FIBA Asia Cup.

S: What was one thing you learned from playing in Europe that played a role in your maturity as a leader for Gilas?

J: Going overseas, everybody can score, everybody can shoot that ball. So, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘What is the one unique thing I can bring to the table other than scoring.’ I’m not just talking about basketball, I’m also talking about character. How are you going to rise up to the challenge? Okay, everybody can shoot the ball, but what can you bring to the team that they still need you? So, I’m just going through it, looking back to it and having that experience, and bringing it to the national team. I just let it resonate through the way I talk to my teammates. I’m guiding them if I see something that they can be better at. I tell them. Being matured, I feel like I’m more relaxed when it comes to playing. Before the ball comes to me, I already know what I’m going to do. I’m already thinking of the next move. It’s body language, really. And it just goes naturally. 

S: How does it feel to now be one of the leaders on the team after all these years?

J: I’m happy [being one of the mentors on the team]. Looking back, before I was just like them, being the youngest on the team, and now, being the one imparting knowledge to them, and all the lessons that I’ve learned throughout these years, I just can’t help but to smile. After our last game against Korea, I told the younger players to soak up the moment. As someone who was there when the Philippines was in Ground Zero up to now, this is bigger than us. It means so much more than just a win or loss. To be a part of this, there’s nothing like it. I’m just happy with Gilas because every time we step on the court, we always break barriers, we always make history. To be a part of that is just…wow. My name will forever be etched on the women’s basketball team alongside Afril Bernardino, Janine Pontejos, Chack Cabinbin, and those who came before me, and to be around those talented ladies, it’s just amazing.

S: How important is it to pass on the knowledge to the next generation of female hoopers? 

J: I always say representation matters. To have someone that you can relate to and to have someone who is as talented as those girls and to be the one leading them – I just keep telling them, ‘Everything that you do is not just always about you. You don’t know you’re impacting other people’s lives, especially young girls. You don’t know who’s looking up to you. Just by playing your best, showing up every time, no matter what the score is, no matter how many wins or losses you have, it’s a matter of how you represent yourself and how you represent the Philippines every time you go out there with PILIPINAS across your chest.’ It speaks more than just basketball. 

S: What do you think that experience of yours, playing overseas, represents? 

J: That experience, playing overseas, represents that nothing is impossible. I went out there not knowing what to expect. Going out there, I knew it was going to open a lot of doors not just to me but also to my teammates and to all aspiring Filipina basketball players that want to go overseas. There’s already a path that they can take and if you’re thinking of a sport that you want to play, I think it should be basketball because you already have that path, it’s possible. Me going out there, it just goes to show that with hard work, perseverance, and passion, as long as you want it, everything you put your mind to, you can do it. 

S: How was the whole process of recovering from injury like? J: There were days where I didn’t feel like myself. There were days where maybe I should be looking at other things to do. Maybe basketball wasn’t really for me, but having a really good support group and support system, having people that believe in you – even after my injury they still believe in me. Every time I do my rehab I’m in the weight room, those were the days where I built myself again. Not just my strength physically, but also my strength mentally. If I can do this, I can do more. When I came back, I still had doubts if I was going to be the same me after my injury. But I just kept going. Seeing my teammates, especially Coach Pat [Aquino], he never made me feel that I was fragile. He treated me like how he treats before I got injured. Nothing changes. If these people have this kind of belief in me, why can’t I believe in myself too? I just show up every day even when I don’t feel like showing up. Going to the practice and doing the things they’re telling me to do. This FIBA Asia Cup really showed all the hard work that I’ve been putting into it since my injury up to now and…wow. I feel like I’m stronger now than I was before and I feel a lot better after my injury. I can finally say she’s really back.