Basketball National League

Ngona believes she is HER and is already spreading her wings

RACHEL ‘Rocket’ Ngona exudes confidence in her ability to play basketball, and while she picked up the game a little late in high school, she quickly adapted and has gone on to become a star in a short space of time.

It has also led the point guard, who has starred for Mpumalanga Rhinos and had a stint with Mozambican club New Vision de Pemba, to proclaim herself as HER.

Before her bold declaration and career reflection, Ngona, a 3X3 specialist, explained to The Big Tip Off how basketball entered the fray of her life.

Ngona ditches the soccer boots for basketball sneakers

Ngona, an avid football fan, was nursing a right ankle injury – at the time. During Ngona’s recovery process, one of her peers tried to persuade her to switch codes.

“I was a soccer player and loved everything to do with it. In my grade 10 year, I was playing (football) and got injured. One of my friends, who was playing basketball, asked me to give it a try,” said the 22-year-old.

At first, she was reluctant, but once she realised the game unleashed her toughness, Ngona swayed – tentatively!

“Initially, I was like, hmmm, I love soccer … I am not going to play a sport I am not familiar with. After getting out of my cast, I went to one training, and to my surprise, I could be aggressive and no one would ask ‘Why are you being aggressive’?” said the former Athlone Girls High School pupil.

Rachel Ngona during the JBI tournament
Rachel Ngona had the experience of a lifetime while playing in Mozambique. Pictures: The BTO

The second practice was the charm. It was also a time Ngona shot her shot in the provincial ranks.

“I did not instantly fall in love with it, but it was interesting. I realised I had a good handle and I could shoot threes. Which all came naturally,” said Ngona. “The second practice is when I fell in love with the game. There were also provincial trials that week, and I made it to the final stage, where they selected a team.

“That is when I realised I have the potential to go far in this game.”

While Ngona bloomed in basketball, an abrupt reality crept on her – she could not have the best of both worlds playing her newfound sports and football.

“I had a difficult decision to make because while playing basketball, I was captain of the soccer team in grade 11. My dad reminded me that I can’t do everything as I risked getting injured,” said Ngona. “Basketball was the winner. When I did not have transport to go to a court, I would walk to a court. That is how much I love the game.”

In the last two years of high school (2018 and 2019), Ngona cracked the nod for the Gauteng provincial team. She spent time refining her game, leading to recognition from her province. She described making the team as “a great feeling”, and it helped elevate her self-confidence.

“The following year, I worked on improving my game. I added a layup package, bettered my handles and improved my accuracy from three-point range. That led to me making the team (provincial) two years running,” said Ngona. “It was a great feeling (making the provincial team). I also started to believe more in my ability. I did not have anyone to look up to or tell me, ‘This is how you play basketball’. So I was just having fun with it.”

Her hard work over the last few years has paid off and continues to do so in the present. It has led to her making the following statement.

“My game has become more composed. I feel I am different and my game is on another level. I believe that I am HER,” said Ngona.

Learning the ropes and starring in the WBNL

Since then, Ngona, the 1.70m (5ft7) floor general, has played three seasons in the Women’s Basketball National League (WBNL) and has stood out for a struggling Rhinos team.

Despite her WBNL franchise being unable to make waves, Ngona has made an individual impact since her debut season in 2021.

The intelligent point guard has been a WBNL All-Star three times. Ngona feels the four-year-old women’s league is a platform for exposure.

“It was inspiring for us. It felt like they (BNL management) finally saw us because I was playing pick-up games before that. I felt my talent needed to be out there. So, the BNL recognising me and other talented players is amazing,” said Ngona.

Rachel Ngona at the Dreals Paris 3X3 tournament.
Rachel Ngona playing at the 3X3 Dreals Paris tournament in Johannesburg.

She also reflected on the Rhinos’, who had won a game a single in their first two years of existence. Ngona believes season three was a slight improvement: “We have had our ups and downs. But I have the Dame Lillard attitude, where you build. I don’t want to title chase. Wherever I play, I want to have fun and be part of the building process. We can grow as a franchise, and 2023 is the beginning.”

Falling in love with the Mozambican game

Another milestone in the bag for Ngona was playing in Mozambique in the women’s Liga Sasol, sponsored by the South African petroleum parastatal.

Ngona, who suited up for New Vision de Pemba, was excited that she got a chance to play on a much bigger stage.

“UJ (University of Johannesburg) coach Thuso Moiloa called me and said, ‘There is an opportunity for you to play in Mozambique. Are you available?” said Ngona. “Of course, I was excited and told him I was down. It was a big stage for me. And I had to prove that I could play at a high level.

“It was not hard adjusting to their physicality. Their intensity and physical style is higher than anything I have experienced. And you have to play through that. It was a great experience. I would go back again. I fell in love.”

Ngona, who recently won the Johannesburg Invitational with Corinthians BWA, has established herself as a star in the South African game. She has also tasted basketball outside the country, and the hope is to see her spread her wings further.

Ngona believes she is HER and is already spreading her wings Read More »

Shine reflects on character building basketball journey

Shine: BNL final will be a battle of inches

EMMANUEL Shine has experienced the ebbs and flows of basketball. He has tasted the thrill of success and the agony of losing. When he speaks about his journey in the game one gets a feeling of a character-building process preparing him for something greater.

From his early teens, Shine was multi-talented, especially on the sports field. Before throwing his lot with basketball, he dabbled in football and athletics. He even won a high jump title during his high school days.

It was the alluring culture of basketball made Shine fall hook and sinker. Another factor was that the game gave the former Pretoria High School for Boys pupil a sense of belonging.

“At high school, we had to choose summer sports, cricket, swimming and basketball. I was not a great swimmer, and I sucked at cricket. Basketball was my last resort,” said the Suns’ big man. “Also, that is where all the black kids had gone (basketball), so it felt like home. I also played club soccer for Glenwegians, as the school did not offer the sport. So basketball was not a priority in my grade eight year. It was only in the third term that I decided to give it a shot.

“What got me hooked was the culture. Basketball has a big culture around it. That is what made me fall in love with it.”

Emmanuel Shine reflects on character building journey
Emmanuel Shine has assumed the captaincy at Tshwane Suns. Pictures: The BTO

Shine had made rapid progress with basketball. In his grade nine year, he made the first team. But he would have to make another difficult choice between basketball and athletics – where he had also found success.

“As a young kid in an all-boys school, you like to be admired for your achievements. I played first team (basketball) before any of my peers, and it felt good. That drove me and kept me going,” said Shine, who matriculated at Boys High. “I quit soccer but found myself torn between basketball and athletics. I was the high jump national champion but I was in love with basketball.

“Again, basketball and its culture called me. It is why I have gone all the way with the sport, and that’s the reason I am where I am now.”

Being brought down to earth at University Pretoria

While his present holds a lot of promise, Shine says while he enjoyed success at the high school level, the transition to university presented a different challenge. His first year at the University of Pretoria (UP) was a humbling experience, but he also grew as a player.

“I came to UP with a bit of a big head. Having been the man in high school, I quickly got humbled. I realised there were guys much older than me … Five, six, seven years older playing at varsity, and I had to adjust,” said Shine. “University on its own is hard … Initially, I thought I would come in the team and choose my number. I thought I would be number 13 again, but coach Lesiba (Malothane) brought me down to earth. I had to choose a number no one wanted which was 12, and I started off the bench because I was a rookie.

“What I did enjoy was, moving from the position of getting the ball at the low block, where you bump bodies and score, to needing to make free throws, making mid-range shots, playing defence and dribbling the ball up the floor.”

While he was honing his skillsets at UP, the process had its forgettable and memorable moments. Shine explained that his first University Sports South Africa (USSA) tournament for UP was a downhill experience from the first game.

“That was my worst USSA. We played against UJ (University of Johannesburg). We did not know what hit us. They (UJ) just whacked us. Later that night, we played against UCT (University of Cape Town), a game we should have won but didn’t,” said Shine. “We ended up playing in the classification games. We were at the tournament for five days, but we had little motivation because of how we had been performing on the first day.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Emmanuel Shine (@emmanuel_shine)

Fortunately for Shine, his final year at UP saw him bow out with a degree of satisfaction. In the second year of the Varsity Cup, the institution from the capital city would make the final but fell to UJ.

“It was my first Varsity Cup and also my last year. That year was tough because we lost some players. The way the competition works is players need to have a certain amount of credits and be under 25 years to play,” said Shine. “So we lost one of our starters, Manelisi Mthiyane, but the blessing was other players who never got a look in had an opportunity. That was also my most successful run at UP because there was dependence on me and Ludwig (Gerdes).

“Nobody expected us to beat UJ and Wits in the group stages. Or to even qualify for the finals. That was massive. In my last year, to make the finals. It was beautiful.”

Winning with the Suns

Now to his present, Shine, who has campaigned in the Basketball National League (BNL) since 2016 and won his first title last year, could potentially win his second league title with the Tshwane Suns, who beat the Mpumalanga Rhino earn their place in Sunday’s final. 

This year’s title run is distinctive for Shine because he assumed the captaincy of the four-time league winners from the start of the season. He will, on Sunday, lead the defending champions to the final against the star-studded Cape Town Tigers.

Emmanuel Shine third picture
Emmanuel Shine believes his team has a good leadership core.

The former Egoli Magic player says leading the team was already in the works from last year. With long-serving captain Kagiso Ngoetjana taking a break from the game, he began to mentor Shine.

“It was already known last year. Chief kept telling us that he was stepping away from the game. Being friends already, he started giving me some responsibilities. So the transition was smooth. I never feel that I have to go out of my way to lead anybody because we are a team of leaders,” said Shine, who served as vice-captain of the franchise last year.

“My job is made super easy because of the seniors in the team. Our youngest player Holy (Mandungu), has a mind of a veteran. He knows how to approach the game. When the youngest player has that frame of mind leading the team becomes secondary.”

The unbeaten Suns will need all the players to be at their best against the Tigers, who are also undefeated. Shine feels their adversaries will be under pressure because of their achievements over the last two years.

“We have to give them their props because they are setting the standard for professionalism in South Africa. I have played with some their players. Guys like Lebesa (Selepe), Dylan (Whitbred) and Lebogang (Mofokeng) these are guys that train hard. They have coach Florsh (Ngwenya), one of the best coaches we have in the country,” said Shine.

“You don’t go into this game fearing your opponent. We must appreciate that we have earned the right to be here. I think it’s going to go down to inches, like fighting for that loose ball or that rebound.

“They are under a lot of pressure because of their accomplishments. They made back-to-back play-offs in the BAL (Basketball Africa League). We also have pressure because we are the defending champions and want to prove we deserve to be here.

Shine reflects on character building basketball journey Read More »

Verified by MonsterInsights