Majok talks BAL ambition and life after the game

WHEN it comes to life after basketball, Ater Majok is already clear on which path he will follow when the curtain falls and he takes a final bow from the game. 

The US Monastir centre says he wants to engage more in philanthropic endeavours on the African continent. He has already targeted the kind of projects he wants to be involved in.

“I have a passion for helping out at orphanages and building homes on the continent. It’s where my heart lies and where my focus is,” said Sudan-born Majok, who spoke to The Big Tip Off via Zoom.

Although his name is synonymous with basketball, Majok stated he will have very little to do with the game once his playing days are over.

“You will not see me in the basketball sector very often. Maybe now and then, I’ll do something related to basketball, but once I put that ball down and hang up my shoes, it will be rare that I’m seen on the court,” said 34-year-old Majok, emphasising his goal-orientated nature. “I am a person who sets goals for himself. Once that is done, I close that chapter and move on to the next one. I am nearing the end of my career. So, I feel like I am satisfied and I have given everything. I am happy with where I am. There is no point in looking back to ask yourself what could have been.”

Ater Majok
Ater Majok has prepared himself for life after the game. Pictures: Basketball Africa League

Majok, who once lived in Australia as a refugee, stressed that his desire to give back was born after a harrowing experience during a visit to South Sudan. He also implored other Africans who are in the same position to give their time and money to uplift the continent.

“We as Africans need to start giving back to Africa. We need to start building things by Africans for Africans. That’s where the next chapter of my life will start,” said Majok, who reflected on his visit to South Sudan. “It was in 2016 when I went back home to South Sudan. I saw a couple of orphaned kids, and witnessed one who had passed away on the street. What shocked me is that people were walking past his body with no one wanting to help. It hurt me and I felt it was unacceptable. From that point on, I told myself I must make a difference. I have a name, a voice and resources. I also know the relevant people to speak to. We have to help the next generation of Ater Majoks, Loul Dengs, presidents, ministers or teachers to reach their dreams.”

Majok added: “We need to start looking after these kids. If you look at our kids, even in the diaspora, we are losing them. We need to start taking care of them. If we don’t, there will be a lost African generation.”

The next chapter of Majok’s life is still taking shape, and whilst one eye is focused on the future, the other is firmly placed on the present. The big man is still playing the game at a high level, which he showed in his team’s opening game of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) Sahara conference. He is also on a redemption seeking mission following last year’s painful final loss to Egyptian club, Zamalek.

Majok, a former UConn Huskies player, has returned for the second season of the BAL in Dakar, Senegal, and again in the colours of last year’s finalists, US Monastir of Tunisia.

The North African club opened their campaign with a hard-fought 77-71 victory over opponents, Ferroviario da Beira of Mozambique. Majok was a dominant figure for Monastir at both ends of the court on Sunday.

At six-foot-ten, Majok was a defensive anchor for Monastir as he produced four blocks against Beira. In offence, he was a handful for the Mozambican club as he powered his way to 19 points and crashed 12 boards to earn the player of the game award.

While it was not the most polished of performances, Majok says the team will get into its stride when the time arrives.

“Beira played really and hard. There were moments in the game where they also outplayed us,” said Majok. “I must emphasise that our goal is not to peak too early. We want to peak at the right time. Sunday’s game was only the beginning for us. It was not good enough, but we got the win. We have to work hard. So when the time comes, we are at our best.”

 

Despite receiving the player of the match accolade, Majok gave credit to his teammates and stated that his focus was on winning the opening game.

“I did not think about the stats. I did not even realise that I had a double-double. For me, it was about getting the victory. Even if I scored 19 points and get 12 rebounds. I give credit to my teammates because of their actions on the court, it freed me up and allowed me to score, and the defensive plays that they executed gave me the opportunity to get rebounds. So it’s not only about myself, credit must also go to the team,” said Majok, who has had a decorated playing career.

Monastir may have started on the right footing with the W over Beira, and as Majok admitted, they took some time to settle into their style of play in their opening game.

The reason could be the team based at the Tunisian coast have different personnel this year. Monastir had to replace international stars Makrem Romdhane and Omar Abada, who both played a crucial role in the team making it to the final in the inaugural tournament. Despite this challenge, Majok took a positive view of the situation.

“We are definitely going to miss the guys that are not here, but we have a good unit. These guys are going to play hard. We are a blue-collar calibre group of players. We are going to out-work and out-hustle every team,” said the veteran Majok. “Everything will be about hard work and trying to prove a point. We are a young team with alot to prove.”

Ivory Coast guard Souleyman Diabate, who won the inaugural BAL season with Zamalek, and American-born Michael Dixon, are the new faces added to the Monastir set up and they were impactful against Beira at different stages of the game.

“I was with my national team when the two signed on for Monastir. I think the coach (Miodrag Perisic) and management did a fine job welcoming and making them feel part of the team,” said Majok, who competes internationally for Lebanon. “Most of us were with our national teams, so Sunday’s game was our first time together.”

Ater Majok
Ater Majok is still playing the game at a high level.

In the second instalment of the BAL, Majok is as ambitious as he was ahead of last year’s BAL.  He rates his team’s prospects and feels the Tunisian Championnat A side is good enough to win the tournament.

“The goal is not only to reach the final. We want to come in first place. The journey will not be the same. We will have ups and downs. This time we will try a different way of doing things,” said the two-time Championnat A winner. Majok also reflected on what he learned from last year’s final loss against Zamalek.

“I felt like I let my team down and I could have done more in that final. I felt like I should have been carried out on a stretcher because I gave everything. There is nothing else I can say. I’ll have to do my talking on the court,” concluded Majok.

Majok has a second shot at fulfilling his and the team’s ambition at the BAL tournament. He now has the best teacher: experience. Coupled with the latter is his undying desire and competitive edge that could ignite Monastir and make them hard to beat.

*Tuesday’s fixture: US Monastir (Tunisia) vs SLAC (Guinea) at 17:30 (GMT)

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