Nicolae bringing creative flair to basketball training

ROMANIA-born individual skills development coach, Nica Nicolae, has created a niche for himself by moving a few boundaries in South African basketball.

Firstly, he has ventured into an untapped aspect of coaching, which centres on players individually improving their skill sets. Secondly, his coaching style is unorthodox, as his training involves flair and focuses on players coming out of their comfort zones.

So, for players who wish to possess the dribble and handles of Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving or even their finishing style at the rim, then Nicolae’s methods may be for them.

“I realised there was a gap in the market because that are not many skills trainers in South Africa. I believe I can help players improve their skill sets by introducing methods that suit each player,” said Nicolae at the University of Johannesburg’s Gymnasium on Thursday.

Nica Nicolae
Nica Nicolae getting ready for a training session. Pictures: The Big Tip Off.

While 27-year-old Nicolae’s methods may be unconventional for the purists of basketball, he stresses that players must grasp the game’s fundamentals.

“It’s okay to have a different opinion and no disrespect to the fundamental way of training, but I believe it can only take one to a certain level. I have also shared that information with players,” said Nicolae, who has been a skills trainer for four-and-a-half years. “They are a basis to advance in the game for players who want to unlock their skill set, but the training has to be efficient. If it is not, then players will struggle in game situations. For example, when I use the blocking guards, it mimics how other defenders will guard you in match situations.

“My training involves players getting their footwork, balance, and core right and improving their hand and eye co-ordination. It’s a fun way of getting the players engaged.”

Two prominent South African players have trained with Nicolae, who holds a Micah Lancaster Skills Development Certificate. WBNL champion and Tshwane Suns player Lungile Mtsweni and Lehlogonolo Tholo, who plays for Mozambique’s Uniao Juvenil de Napipine have worked with the Romanian coach.

Nicolae feels honoured to have worked with two former national team players. He says it has been a part of his ambition to train some of the best players in the country.

“It’s a dream come true and something I can tick off my bucket list. Since coming to South Africa, I have wanted to work with players that play at a high standard,” said Nicolae, who has been in South Africa since 2010. “To have Lungile and Lehlogonolo trust my work. Them trusting that I can help them get better at something they are already good at… It’s a dream come true.

Mtsweni endorses Nicolae’s coaching and says that her game has vastly improved since coming into contact with the exuberant coach.

“I have learnt about the changing of pace when dribbling the ball and my footwork has also gotten better. The way he beats an opponent really works. When I used to dribble past an opponent my feet were not wide enough. Also, I was not as low as I needed to be. Nica has emphasised those things in his coaching and I feel I have gotten better,” said Mtsweni, who represented South Africa at the 2015 FIBA African Women’s Championships.

“I feel I have more control of the ball and I can drive to the rim in different ways. I have also learnt how to protect the ball better in offence, especially against bigger and stronger guards. They will find it difficult to strip the ball of me.”

Nica Nicolae
Nica Nicolae in a workout session with South African player Lungile Mtsweni

Nicolae has made some observations about players in South Africa, and he mentioned how they could better their skills.

“The biggest thing to work on has been player confidence. Another thing was the handling of the ball especially when a player is under pressure, which ranks high in requests from the players on how to improve their style,” said Nicolae. “After that, shooting, angles, footwork are all aspects that players in South Africa have needed to improve on.”

The skills trainer is slowly growing a reputation in South Africa and has an even bigger vision for himself. He wants to work with some of the continent’s brightest talents.

“One of my big goals is to reach the rest of Africa. I have made contact with a couple of players and there seems to be an interest. Maybe one or two players will come to South Africa,” said Nicolae.

Nicolae has an appreciation on what it has taken for him to get this far in his career. He was also thankful for the input of others as it has made him a better coach. “This journey has been humbling. Seeing how things have come together and the feedback from the players has been positive. I am thankful for the love and support I have received and look forward to a bright future.”

There are so many ways of contributing to and building a career in basketball. Nicolae’s journey is an example of avenues that can be explored to further the game in Africa.

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What Zimbabwe needs is what Africa needs

“The ideal Zimbabwe is one where all human rights are honoured and respected”

AS an athlete, you need a delicate balance of economic, social, spiritual and physical incentives to keep pushing you towards a greater level to compete and excel. All those attributes are under the umbrella of politics.

Zimbabwean politics is extremely heartbreaking. Every attribute mentioned above has been segregated and is almost non-existent. If we were to step into the mind of a Zimbabwe-based athlete, they would ask these questions: “How do you expect me to give my best and compete on an international level with an empty stomach, without the physical structures to support my craft, in a culture of oppression, without reward for my hard work, and without the ability to express my opinion about who I am as an athlete, due to fear?”

Zimbabwe: Athletes Perspective
Neville Chivanganye says the solutions to Zimbabwe’s problems are simple. PICTURES: THE BTO

These questions sound far-fetched but they are the reality of athletes in Zimbabwe. Perfecting a craft requires a lot of time spent in it. However, many are taken away from this process in search for economic means for their daily survival. Yet, they are expected to dedicate time to the craft so that they are at par with fellow athletes in other parts of the world that are better resourced.

What politics has done to sport (and the entirety) of Zimbabwe has made it look like you have put a malnutritioned, sick, skin-and-bone child on a basketball court to compete against a mature, well-built and healthy Team Angola. Visualising that would suggest a demoralised and defeated mood in the heart and soul of the average Zimbabwean athlete. Ask the questions: “how would they compete, and how would they live?”- these two questions are one and the same thing.

What Zimbabwe needs is what Africa needs! A complete shift in understanding that human welfare is this continent’s wealth. Not for a few that are considered elite, but the entire citizenry of Africa.

Zimbabwe: African Solutions
Neville Chivanganye says Zimbabwe can thrive once human rights are respected.

Once our esteemed leaders on this continent grasp that concept, only then can poverty, brutality and corruption at all levels be  eradicated. It may sound too simple, but it is that simple. Simple is made complex by people who build a maze of loopholes so it benefits them alone.

The ideal Zimbabwe is one where all human rights are honoured and respected. A Zimbabwe where there is no little man. A Zimbabwe where equality is the prevailing anchor that drives the actions of people in positions of power and influence. A Zimbabwe where power is held by the people and those given the privilege of leading do so transparently and honestly.

My ideal Zimbabwe is one where every citizen has complete access to their basic human rights and where they can thrive, economically, socially, spiritually and physically.

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Racism isn’t something we are born with

“Surely this should be a time when humanity displays the best of itself?”

RACISM is a complex subject to talk about, its history is long and tragic. Today, we see a lot more incidents of racism, because social media has allowed us to access real-time information.

Growing up in Senegal, I had never experienced it until I left home, to study and play basketball in the United States of America. That’s when I started to deal with the real world outside of my comfort zone and meeting people from diverse backgrounds. Until then, it was just something I rarely heard about.

I cannot fathom how in the 21st century, racism still prevails. It’s Unbelievable. But I got served plenty of times.

As an African athlete, at school, the professional world, I have dealt with both racism and xenophobia, on and off the court. Based on my morals and the way I was raised, racism has always been the hardest to accept because of history and what happened to my ancestors.
I am a Muslim, Islam is my religion, and it promotes peace. So, I live by the teachings of our beloved prophet Muhammad.

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Cheikh Tidiane Mboj got a better understanding of racism once he left Senegal. Pictures: Supplied

We believe that no one can claim any superiority over the other based on race, colour, language or wealth.

But my experience during college days as a student-athlete in America and currently as a professional ball player, have taught me different. I’ve been called a monkey, the N-word, I’ve heard many racist slurs by fans, just because of the colour of my skin and being a black African Muslim. It has always been challenging to swallow my pride and anger… To not retaliate, because retaliation to hatred is not the answer. I thank God for my faith, the way my parents raised me, to get through many obstacles in life. I’ve always held myself accountable from a young age because I left home early by myself.

Racism is as real as it gets and the reality of the situation got me to cope with it quickly, because nobody would feel sorry for me. My love for the game of basketball has always been stronger than the hatred I’ve dealt with, so I’m thankful for having what I love as my profession and hobby at the same time. It always kept me emotionally and mentally busy.

Racism isn’t something we are born with. It’s something that’s taught. People choose how they want to educate their children, good or bad.

With the current pandemic ravaging humanity, it seems racism has taken the lead in the global agenda. Surely this should be a time when humanity displays the best of itself? But current events show we still have a long way to go.

As a basketball player, I strongly believe sports can help bring change to the situation. We, as athletes have to use our various platforms to contribute to breaking the cycle of racism for good.

Nelson Mandela said it well by a quote which I highly appreciate: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair”. It is an inspiring code that all of us as sports lovers can adopt and live by.

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Cheikh Tidiane Mboj has experienced racism at various levels of his playing career.

Basketball has taken me to many places and despite the hatred from some, I can always feel an overpowering love from many others. That love makes my appreciation for the game even stronger. It’s a positive thing for me.

We must learn how to coexist to end racism. We need to learn from history. Learning about each other’s cultures, customs, and principles is the key.

This can help promote not only love and respect for one another but also how we treat each as equals. The colours of our skins may look different and we may experience discrimination and oppression simply based on this. However, we all belong to the human race and are from the same ancestors, Adam and Eve. We are all created by God. Therefore, let’s learn how to love, not hate.

May Allah brings us all together and erase racism once and for all.

Much love and respect to all. ✊?✊?✊?✊?✊?✊

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