Ntunja believes Tigers have a championship DNA
Tigers fine-tuning in key areas for Elite 16 Exiting the OR Tambo international airport, one of the most noticeable features at this national asset is a billboard of the legendary point guard and Cape Town Tigers assistant coach, Vincent Ntunja. Throughout his playing career, Gugulethu-born Ntunja has also dabbled in modelling and promoting brands. He […].
Tigers fine-tuning in key areas for Elite 16
Exiting the OR Tambo international airport, one of the most noticeable features at this national asset is a billboard of the legendary point guard and Cape Town Tigers assistant coach, Vincent Ntunja.
Throughout his playing career, Gugulethu-born Ntunja has also dabbled in modelling and promoting brands. He has appeared on billboards, television advertisements and to top it all off, he is a brand ambassador for sports apparel company, Under Armour. This ability for Ntunja, a former basketball player in South Africa, to be marketable is a sign of the game’s infinite potential for growth. However, ongoing governance issues plaguing the sport in the country make it a far fetched dream for most players.
“We have to start by asking, who is managing the game? Who provides the guidelines for basketball from a business and branding perspective? Those are vital people to have within the administration of the game. Right now, along with other issues, basketball lacks in that department,” said the 40-year-old Ntunja. “Despite what’s happening with the game in the country, it has not stopped me from achieving my goals. Under Armour approached me and it was clear from our discussion, we had mutual interests. They understood my drive, my intention to not only be a basketball player but also to be marketable outside the game.
“So, if we fix the governance issues and place people in the right places in terms of administration, there will be a good product in South Africa. The pie is big enough for everybody to get a slice.”
The former national team player says appearing on the billboard that encourages and promotes tourism in the country is part of leaving a legacy.
“It’s massive! To appear on a billboard at OR Tambo is a milestone. Can you imagine how many people pass through the airport daily? Having your face planted there signals something. It’s a message to every child that it is possible.
“As I speak to you right now, I am at a shoot in Fish Hoek, and I am enjoying myself. It’s for a purpose and I don’t take these opportunities for granted. I can feed my family and have the chance to travel. I am grateful.”
On matters related to the basketball court, recently retired Ntunja and the new ‘it’ team in South African basketball, Tigers are riding a wave of success. Two weeks ago, the American-owned club qualified for the Elite 16 qualifiers of the Basketball Africa League. The Tigers left the preliminary qualifying tournament held at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus with a 3-0 record after beating Roche-Bois Warriors (Mauritius), Matero Magic (Zambia) and Ferroviario Da Beira (Mozambique).
Ntunja expressed his joy at the achievement of the Tigers and stressed that a lot went into getting the team where it is.
“We are elated because of what we achieved in a short space of time. We did not take any shortcuts in preparing ourselves and getting the players to be in tune with each other. Remember that these are guys from different backgrounds and attitudes,” said the former Western Cape Mountaineers player. “Certain feelings or emotions can come to the fore. That’s where we come in to help manage the situation. These are professional players. We appreciate their input and why they are here.”
Having taken a step closer to the BAL tournament, the Tigers are contributing to changing the attitude towards basketball in South Africa.
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We are changing the narrative about basketball in South Africa. We are changing how people in our city and the country see the game,” said Ntunja. As the Tigers prepare for the Elite 16, which tips off December, they will have to double their efforts.
“We are working hard to get ready for the Elite 16, because we have reasonable expectations of ourselves. We will to take on each challenge as it comes. The team is in a good space, and we are not taking anything for granted. We will be back at the beach training and doing our skill sets on the court. We want to improve on our team chemistry and bonding as a unit.”
Going into the Elite 16, one of the areas where the Tigers need to be a cohesive unit is defence and players need to maintain their on court-discipline. During the preliminary qualifiers, key players Chris Gabriels and Billy Preston were ejected, while team captain Pieter Prinsloo fouled-out.
Ntunja says as a coaching staff, they have communicated with the players about tightening up at the defensive end and learning how to manage themselves in tense situations.
“On the subject of discipline, we have been teaching the players self-mastery. Some of the guys may have been overwhelmed by the stage or even the intensity of African basketball. Those issues need to be addressed and players must understand the task at hand,” said the former Cape Peninsula University of Technology Alumni. “Our defence. We speak about it daily. The rebounding, we must not allow the opposition to get those second-chance looks. That will win us games. We need everybody to be on board at the defensive end.”
In terms of the Tigers play, Ntunja was impressed with the performances of seasoned campaigners Ben Uzoh, Pieter Prinsloo, Evans Ganapamo, and Billy Preston who stepped up for the team in the preliminary leg of the qualifiers. Worth noting as well, was their ability to knock down shots.
“I liked our shooting. It was decent. I must compliment our players ability to step up. Our captain Pieter had a great final game against Beira. Against Matero, Ben and Evans delivered for us, and Billy stepped up,” said Ntunja. “We have always asked the guys to take the lead on the court. As their coaches, we have given them all the information. It’s up to them to apply it.”
The Tigers have made known their lofty ambitions to qualify for the BAL and their desire to be crowned champions of the prestigious tournament. To make their BAL dream a reality, they will have to contend with competition that harbours similar desires in the Elite 16.
“When we go back to the drawing board to correct some of the issues and improve on our strengths, we want to focus on the areas that allow us to do more than just participate in the tournament. We are going to the tournament to compete to be champions,” said Ntunja. “If you look at our record, we are unbeaten. Since the project began, we have not lost a game. So it tells you how much this means to us and how badly we want it. It’s been a good experience, and we will let our hard work speak for us.”