After Thirdy Ravena and Ken Tuffin, another collegiate standout takes the international route but this time it’s from the women’s side.
About a month ago, former National University Lady Bulldog and national team player Jack Animam made the announcement to go overseas. She is set to play for Shih Hsin University, becoming the first Filipina to play as an import in Taiwan.
In a recent interview on “So She Did”, she recalled how the decision materialized while being sent off by her colleagues in women’s basketball.
Animam revealed that the offer came back in August 2019.
“Kasi nu’ng August 2019, they came here for training camp. ’Yung girl coach nila, nagka-chat kami sa Instagram. Sabi niya, ‘We would like you to join us next season’. Parang ako, ‘Wow, really?’ But then, hindi pa siya nagsi-sink in sa akin kasi I still have UAAP to play and there’s (Southeast Asian) Games. So hindi ko pa siya priority that time,” Animam recalled.
“After SEA Games, du’n na ako tinanong kung gusto ko daw ba maglaro sa Taiwan.”
The 6-foot-5 center pursued this opportunity after having one of her best runs as a player in 2019.
She finished her historic year with a UAAP championship, an undefeated collegiate career, NU’s 96-game winning streak still alive, and SEA games gold medals in 3x3 and 5-on-5 codes (both firsts for the Philippines as well) to boot.
Although she’s leaving her home for more than six years, Animam said she’s satisfied with her decision. “Masaya ako and super excited kasi hindi naman araw-araw may ganitong opportunity,” she said.
With another chance to represent Filipina ballers, Animam said she aims to bring the same mentality and work ethic that brought her all the success so far.
”Kung paano ako maglaro sa NU, dapat ganoon din ako doon (sa Taiwan). Dapat mas higit pa kasi import ako doon. Bawal ang petiks,” she said.
Before Animam, longtime NU and national teammate Afril Bernardino had also experienced playing in another country.
In 2018, Bernardino played for the Valkyrie Hatchers in the Malaysian Women’s Basketball League. As her advice to Animam, the 3-time UAAP MVP opened up about her ups and downs during her stint.
“Nu’ng una siyempre excited ako kasi may mga bagong matututunan. Habang tumatagal nag-eenjoy ka, pero may kasamang hirap, lungkot. Andu’n ka, mag-isa ka,” Bernardino said.
“Wala kang kayang gawin kung hindi lakasan lang ang loob mo, and tanggapin lahat ng challenges na darating sa iyo.”
Malaysian women’s basketball is considered one of the best this side of the world, dominating regional tournaments for many years.
Right from the beginning of her stay, Bernardino felt how different basketball was played in Malaysia. She also cited language barrier as one of her earliest hurdles.
“Noong unang dating ko du’n, nakakapagod. As in sobrang layo. ’Yung time, ‘yung language nila, ‘yung strategy nila magturo. Actually maganda naman ’yung tinuturo nila, kasi meron silang translator du’n. Nagkakaintindihan kami. ’Yung sa teammates ko, hindi sila masyado nakakapagsalita ng English, so kailangan mag-adjust,” Bernardino said.
The 5-foot-8 player also described how she tweaked her body clock to cope with their training schedules.
“Sobrang bilis ng practice, ng conditioning. Ang training naming du’n is 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. So mga ganu’ng time dito sa Pilipinas, tulog na ako. And after practice hindi mo ma-feel na aantukin ka,” Bernardino said.
“Mas feel ko pa na sobrang hyper ko after practice. So medyo late na ako natutulog. Gumigising ako mga lunch na. Bumaliktad ’yung time ko du’n.”
Here in Manila, team practices are usually held in the morning or early night to get a full rest for the next day.
Despite the challenges, Bernardino was able to carve out quite a stint and brought home invaluable exposure to higher-level competition.
From MVP to MVP, she had a simple message to her outgoing teammate.
“Siguro kung may mga dumating na challenges sa buhay mo doon, lakasan mo lang loob mo,” Bernardino said.
“Alam kong kayang kaya mo ’yung mga trainings du’n. Magaling ka naman din makipag-communicate sa mga tao, so siguro hindi ka naman malulungkot du’n. Nakasuporta kami sa’yo.
Over the years, Animam has transformed into a true ambassador of the sport, putting together an illustrious career while continuing to push women’s basketball to the forefront of the industry.
Before taking a leap in Taiwan, she shared these words to the younger generation.
“To all the young girls out there aspiring to play basketball someday, to represent schools,” Animam said, “just go for it.”