Basketball Without Borders

Whall hoping to break into new realms in basketball

IN the realm of South African basketball, where the sport often takes a backseat to more traditional pursuits, one player is rising through the ranks and in the process, blazing her own trail.

Meet Suzannah Whall, a Grade 12 student from Herschel Girls School, who took up basketball in Grade 8 – a time when many of her peers were just getting acquainted with the sport.

What started as an exploration prompted by her Cape Town-based school’s offering, quickly transformed into an immediate passion. As she dedicated herself to the game, Whall realised that there was more to the game than just the thrill of competition. It offered a strong sense of community.

“I fell in love with it from day one,” said Whall. “I just love the community part of the game. Also, everyone plays because they love the game and want to teach the game to others.”

Whall’s passion has propelled her to many successes, which included the U17 National Team selection to represent South Africa in 2021.

This year another international door opened when she got the chance to participate in the prestigious Basketball Without Borders (BWB) camp, where her talent and determination caught global attention.

With an unwavering commitment and a string of triumphs, she stands as a beacon of inspiration, defying adversity and embodying the spirit of a true student of the game.

Suzannah Whall taking pointers
Suzannah Whall, second from left, takes pointers from former NBA player Hashim Thabeet. Pictures: Supplied

Experiencing both victory and adversity

This year kicked off with her participating in a tournament at the American International School of Johannesburg (AISJ). Her high school (Hershel) team finished third after losing to Sacred Heart College in the semi-finals by one point. The team met a similar fate at the St Peter’s Tournament where they struggled in the semi-finals after losing by three points and clinched the third position.

Reflecting on the two adversities she faced, Whall says the losses brought about a tenacity and grit, which allowed them to show up and play.

“We know how losing feels and we’ve learnt from it even though it hurts”, she explained.

Following these two losses, Whall competed against the top schools in the Western Cape alongside her teammates where they won the tournament and Whall won the MVP award. She then went on to compete alongside her club team, the Hot Shots in the African Grassroot Hoops Tournament held in Cape Town where they too won.

Whall credits the support structure in the form of her teammates, who also play similar sports.

“It helps that a lot of my teammates on the school team are part of the same club team too. So we helped each other out. The club makes sure that practices and matches do not clash. I also have an awesome support system at home.”

Valuable lessons picked up from BWB

The 19th edition of the Basketball Without Borders camp (BWB) was a much-anticipated event by everyone in the South Africa. Like many other hopefuls, Whall had heard about the camp and inquired how she could secure an invite.

Whall recalled the moment when she found out that she was selected as one of the top 80 prospects who would be participating in the camp that was held at AISJ.

A day prior to the start of camp, which took place at the end of July, Whall received 10 unexpected missed calls from her former high school coach. “Coach Theslin (Davids) never calls me. I was like what’s going on?”, she recalls. After returning her calls within the next three hours, Whall was on a flight to Johannesburg to attend BWB.

Despite the crazy turn of events, Whall had an understanding of what she could expect during the camp.

“I was expecting fast paced games, talented players, high energy, pressure, and that is definitely what I got.”

Despite the language barriers that she faced communicating with the other players, the camp truly lived up to its name. with the game of basketball defying the language barriers and eliminating borders to bring the campers together.

“Everyone was so friendly and you all understand the game of basketball. I connected so well with some players on both on and off the basketball. We couldn’t speak one another’s languages, but basketball connected us. So, I really enjoyed that,” said Whall.

The BWB was graced by NBA superstars Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Jonathan Kuminga (Golden State Warriors) and respected coaches like Darvin Ham (LA Lakers). Those are names that give any kid stars in their eyes, but Whall was more inspired to learn from former WNBA players.

“For me, I was thrilled to see the women basketball coaches because they are more relatable. When you see women succeeding in basketball, you can easily see yourself in them. You can think to yourself, ‘it’s actually possible, and I can do this’,” said Whall.

One of the players Whall had the opportunity to learn from, was four-time WNBA champion and legend, Sheryl Swoopes. The youngster says she was impressed by the three-time Olympic gold medalist’s approach to the game.

“I was lucky enough to be apart of the team that she (Swoopes) was coaching. It was such a privilege because you can see how hard she has worked and how much she has been through. Also, you can see how much basketball has given back to her.”

Whall was among the campers who won the individual awards. The shooting guard clinched the three point trophy at the camp.

“Shooting is one of my strengths. It was a goal of mine coming into the camp, but you never know on the day. You only get two chances. Sometimes your shots just don’t fall but they did on the day and I am grateful.”

The 18-year-old will never forget the moment she was announced as the winner, and the subsequent media attention she received. It was a truly memorable experience for her. Whall is ready to share all the valuable lessons that she has learnt from some of the greats.

“Always put in that extra effort because no matter how good you are. It’s such an easy thing to do, you don’t have to train effort, you just have it,” said Whall.

Whall’s Mountaineers ambition?

With the WBNL season recently wrapping up, Whall was supporting her former teammates, back-to-back Champions, the Western Cape Mountaineers.

“I played for the Mountaineers last season and for them to win back-to-back was so incredible. I was supporting them all the way and watching them play was so exciting.”

Suzannah Whall was excited learn from Sheryl Swoopes
Suzannah Whall, learnt important lessons from Sheryl Swoopes, pictured, during the Basketball Without Borders. Picture: The BTO

The young Whall hopes to journey abroad to further her studies.

“The goal is to go and play in America and hopefully study there as well,” said Whall. “The level of basketball there is insane. Also, getting that kind of exposure while also getting a great education is exciting.”

However, Whall is in no rush and hopes to rejoin the back-to-back WBNL Champions next year for a potential three-peat.

“I would definitely want to play for them. The competition is so good and the exposure that it brings to South African basketball is amazing.”

Equipped with the lessons learnt from the greats, a strong work ethic, and willingness to be coachable, Whall is determined to reach the next level of her dreams. The flame of desire that lit in Grade 8 when she picked up a basketball still burns and hopefully, the best is still to come from Suzannah Whall.

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Gilchrist riding the crest of the wave in basketball

STORM Gilchrist has a distinguished family legacy in basketball. Walking the pathway laid by his legendary father, the teenager is prepared to take the mantle and fly to a different stratosphere.

The son of Craig Gilchrist, one of the South African game’s greats, has seen doors open for him this year. Firstly, he’s completed another season in the Basketball National League (BNL) with the team his father played for and now coaches, KwaZulu-Natal Marlins.

Gilchrist also got a chance to learn from NBA elite players and coaches at the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) camp, which ended on Monday. Soon, he will bid farewell to South African shores to further his game in the United States of America.

The St Charles College pupil reflected on the journey that first saw him start as a rugby player, a sport his father and grandfather also played. Gilchrist explained to The Big Tip Off that while he had a “deep love” for rugby, it was basketball that would eventually steal his heart.

“Most people don’t know this. My father played for the under-19 Sharks (rugby) team, and my grandfather also played for a bit. So, it’s in the genes. I have a deep love for that sport (rugby), but I have a deeper love for basketball,” said the 18-year-old.

Once he committed to basketball in grade eight, Gilchrist’s father showed him the ropes. The road would, however, present some challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic and a knee injury stalled his progress.

“I had my first practice with my father as the head coach. That is when I thought, ‘this (basketball) is going to be lots of fun’. But Covid-19 ruined a good part of the season. Unfortunately, when we were allowed to play sports again, I blew out my knee in my grade 10 year playing rugby,” said Gilchrist. “I tore my MCL (medial collateral ligament) and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament), and I was out for another 14 months.”

Storm Gilchrist honing his skills at BWB
Storm Gilchrist says his father is a key mentor for him in basketball. Picture: The BTO

Gilchrist credits the support structures around him for providing morale support during the recovery stages.

“It (recovery) was not fun. I was in a weak mental state, but thanks to my friends, I pushed through. My mom and dad played an important role, so I am thankful to them too,” said the Marlins centre.

Hooping with the Marlins

Now a matriculant, Gilchrist has grown with the Marlins and helped them make it to the semi-finals of the BNL. While the Marlins fell to eventual champions, the Cape Town Tigers, he enjoyed his match-up against Pieter Prinsloo (Tigers captain).

He also felt that because of his youth, many underestimated him throughout the BNL season.

“It is one of the most fun experiences I have ever had. Going into games, everyone thought, ‘he is just a kid, and we can push him around’, but I locked in and played hard defence. So, I caught them off guard,” said Gilchrist. “I have so much respect for Pieter. He wants to mentor me to become like him. He’s played (NCAA) Division 1. He is a true professional. So, it was a learning experience for me.”

Gilchrist discussed his father’s impact in his debut BNL season: “It’s a great privilege, especially having my father as my coach. He has so much knowledge, especially in the position I play. When something doesn’t go right for me, he helps me keep my cool. He taught me how to get to the rim and when to kick out. He shares a lot of knowledge with me.”

 

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Rubbing shoulders with the NBA stars

Gilchrist’s game IQ has probably shot up 10-fold after participating at the Basketball Without Borders camp in Johannesburg. Gleaning insights from superstar players like Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat) and respected coaches like Darvin Ham (LA Lakers) is an opportunity of a lifetime.

The youngster recalled that he had been on holiday when, close to midnight and in deep slumber, he was woken up by the life-changing call.

“We had just won the St John’s tournament and were on holiday to Scottburgh Beach. The St Stithians coach (Roland Andingdou) called me at 11 at night, and he goes, ‘I just put your name through to go to the BWB. You must be ready for the call’,” said Gilchrist. “I was excited, scared … And experienced every feeling known. I did not know what to expect.”

“Now that I’m here, I have made friends with players from countries like South Sudan and Nigeria. We have been teaching them some South African slang during the team building exercises.”

He also shared some of his reflections after learning from some of the best in the business. 

“Looking at some aspects of my game, I feel, I did not shoot the ball well. So, that area needs work. I think I got better on defence, especially after working with Bam Adebayo. He is one of the best defenders in the NBA,” said Gilchrist. “I learnt how to close out without contesting the ball too much. He taught me a lot of defensive tricks.

“Coach Ham can read the game so well. He can draw up a play from his head because of what he sees on the court. Watching him draw up a play and trying to understand how he came up with it was a fun experience.”

Chasing the American basketball dream

After the BWB experience, Gilchrist will have little time to put his feet up and relax. In just a few days, he’ll head to San Antonio (United States), on an eight-month scholarship to further develop his game at the Strength N Motion Academy.

Storm Gilchrist third image
Storm Gilchrist says he enjoyed bonding with other campers at BWB.

Gilchrist says the academy scouted him after he posted some highlight reels in the digital space.

“I posted a highlight reel on YouTube. So they scouted me from there. They told me they needed a big guy who could rebound and score. I am so excited because here in South Africa, you train three times a week,” said Gilchrist. “Over there, I’ll be training three times daily and playing against nearby colleges. I feel that by the time I come back, I’ll be a better player, and I could become a professional.”

Having honed his skills from some great minds of the game, starting with his father and exceptional NBA players and coaches, Gilchrist goes to the spiritual home of basketball with refined skill sets. He is far from the finished product, but his trajectory is promising. Storm Gilchrist is a name to look out for in the future.

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