MANILA, Philippines -- Even as Jack Animam chases her dream of playing professional basketball, her longtime coach is hopeful that more and more Filipinas will follow the trail that she is blazing.
The 22-year-old Animam, a standout from National University (NU), is headed to Serbia to play for Radnički Kragujevac in their professional league. It's a move that Animam and her management hope will bring her closer to her ultimate dream -- the WNBA.
Patrick Aquino, who has coached Animam in NU as well as in the Gilas Pilipinas Women's national team, expressed his pride in his protege's achievement but hopes that more women will also follow in her footsteps.
"Her achievement is a spark," said Aquino. "Hopefully, it brings bigger (things), knowing that Filipinas can play basketball in that level."
"Hopefully, she'll be the first, and more to come," he added.
Some Filipina players have already played as imports in other Southeast Asian countries, including Animam's former NU teammate Afril Bernardino and veteran forward Allana Lim. The Women's National Basketball League (WNBL) also turned professional last year, giving Filipina players a platform to showcase their skills after their collegiate careers are over.
But Animam, a former UAAP Most Valuable Player, is the first to play in a European league. To prepare for the move, she trained in the United States for several months under the guidance of Dante Harlan.
As excited as she is to take the next step in her basketball career, Animam is also acutely aware of the role she plays as an ambassador of Philippine women's basketball. When reflecting on her signing with Radnički Kragujevac, she stressed that it's an important move not just for herself.
"Everyday na nagwo-work out ako, nagte-train ako with Coach Dante, I just keep in mind na I'm not just doing this for myself but also for my fellow Filipinas, especially the younger girls," she said.
"We all know that there's not much of a support and exposure for women's basketball in the Philippines. So that's what's always in my mind," she added. "Every time that I go out there, I show everyone that, you know, Filipina basketball (players) can play as well. Not just in the Philippines but also in the international level."
With Animam bringing greater interest into women's basketball, Aquino hopes that more girls will be inspired to also take up the sport.
"She (Animam) will be paving the way for the next generation of Filipina ballers," he said. "We hope that she succeeds and hope that many will follow her in the future."