MANILA, Philippines—Seventeen days after the end of her collegiate basketball career, Jack Animam finally got the celebration she deserved.
Animam, the star center of National University, was in New Zealand during the UAAP Season 82 women's basketball finals and thus missed their championship series against University of Santo Tomas. She suffered an orbital fracture while playing for the country in the 2019 FIBA Pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, and had to stay there for observation.
It was a difficult experience for Animam, who had been a major part of NU's last four titles. Her teammates did not let her down as the Lady Bulldogs swept the Tigresses to secure a six-peat and extend their winning streak to 96 games.
But to miss the finals, in her final season for NU, was brutal for Animam.
"Noong nandoon ako sa New Zealand, sobrang iyak ako nang iyak. Buong week na andoon ako, sobrang iyak ako nang iyak," said Animam.
"Tapos nagdadasal lang ako, sabi ko kay God na, 'Baka may plano ka sa akin, kaya ganito 'yung nangyari'."
Animam's prayers were answered on Tuesday night. For the first time in the history of the Southeast Asian Games, the Philippines ruled the women's basketball competition. They did so in scintillating fashion, as they routed Thailand 91-71 in the gold medal game. Animam was unstoppable, scoring 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting.
When the final buzzer sounded, Animam threw her hands up in celebration. She finally got the chance to celebrate at Mall of Asia Arena, where the UAAP finals were held.
"Kagabi pa lang, ini-imagine ko na. 'Yun nga, 'di ako nakapaglaro ng UAAP, tapos dito siya ginanap," said a teary-eyed Animam. "Ang layo ko sa kanila. Sabi ko sa sarili ko, kahit anong mangyari, kailangan mag-gold kami ngayon, kasi sobrang gustong-gusto ko nang mag-celebrate."
"Kasi, wala akong pwedeng panghawakan kasi wala naman ako noong NU. So sabi ko talaga sa kanila, let's go get that gold, and ito na nga 'yun. Finally, makakapag-celebrate na kami," she added.
Animam is no stranger to making history; she has been doing that regularly for the NU women's team, a team that has dominated the UAAP for the past six years.
But to do so with the national team is another matter entirely, and for Animam, it is a dream come true.
"For the last two seasons ng SEA Games, lagi kaming one game away from getting that gold. But now, we won't let that happen, and we got it, we finished the job," she said.
"Sobrang sarap sa feeling. Sobrang surreal pala. Yes, I dreamed of this, but eto na siya sa harapan ko pero parang nananaginip pa rin ako. Ang sarap sa pakiramdam," she added.
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