Dr Moussi talks retirement U-turn and BNL finals return

Mountaineers prepared to match Suns’ veteran experience 

WHEN Dr Corinne Moussi arrived in South Africa over a decade ago as a student, the idea of becoming a superstar basketball player in the country was unfathomable to her. As she engaged in the sport, a competitive flame lit in her and a season of eye opening experiences and great reward would unfold.

When Dr Moussi narrates her journey into basketball, which started in Bamenda, Cameroon, you learn that the sport was not her first love. That honour belonged to to tennis. She describes her first encounter with basketball as accidental and upon the first, second and third bounce she realised she had a good feel for the game. From then, she has never stopped bouncing the ball.

“I always say basketball was an accident. Tennis was my the sport for me. My dad also enrolled me at a tennis academy. During the holidays, I would solely focus on tennis,” said Belgium-born shooting guard during an interview with The Big Tip Off. “I attended an all-girls school and physical education or sports was not encouraged. But once upon a time in high school, we had a basketball bouncing session. I saw then that my eye and hand coordination were perfect.

“I said to myself, ‘okay, there is something here’. So, I played occasionally when that session was available.”

Dr Corinne Moussi has started playing basketball in Bamenda, Cameroon
Dr Corinne Moussi has achieved individual and team success in the game. Pictures: The BTO

Being a part of the Maties revolution

When she journeyed to South Africa to pursue her studies at Stellenbosch University (SU), Dr Moussi’s arrival was in tandem with the institution’s embrace of basketball. It was a situation that worked well for her as she trained under the tutelage of coaches trying to build the basketball program of the institution.

“I have to give kudos to my former coach Aggrey Ofula. He did his best while he was there,” said Dr Moussi, who holds a PhD in Political Science from SU. When coach Kimathi (Toboti) and coach Masie (Ntlali) arrived, things began to change. The program became a high-performance code with more resources and a change in focus.

“Aside from that, coach Kim is the kind of coach that pushes you. I grew a lot under him, and like coach Nataly (September), he gave me the leeway to be myself on the court. I could make mistakes and eventually become the best version of myself.”

The basketball revolution at Maties sparked Dr Moussi’s competitive edge. It also led to her achieving individual success at the 2018 University Sports South Africa (USSA) tournament.

“We (Maties) seldom qualified for USSAs because the competition was tough. Coach Kim decided that we must compete outside the Western Cape. The Ashraaf (Loedwky) tournament was my first competition, and I was twice an All-Star at that tournament,” said Dr Moussi. I have never competed against Gauteng teams. They bring toughness that I had not experienced before. It certainly fuelled my competitive spirit.

“The USSA is a tournament on a national scale. In my first competition, I got my first All-Star award. It made me realise I enjoy competing. When I look at those awards today, I blush because I have always played, but there was no reward. So, the 2018 award in particular, was fulfilling.”

Scaling new heights with the Mountaineers

Dr Moussi’s cup of success continued to flow when she joined Women’s National Basketball League (WBNL) franchise, Western Cape Mountaineers. The Mountaineers, who joined the four-year-old WBNL a year (2021) after its formation, proved a formidable outfit. 

Last year, the Mountaineers lived up to expectations and were crowned league champions after beating Egoli Magic in the final. The lightning quick guard also took the MVP award. Despite the winning season, Moussi surprisingly says her debut season was her best.

“It was a ‘finally’ moment. We have been waiting, and finally, we have it. It was exciting and also my best season so far. Not only for me, the players we had. We had fun on and off the court,” said Dr Moussi reflecting on their first season. “Our approach was not business-like. We had fun and made it to the final, but we lost. That year was my best, and I think it was the same for my teammates.”

 

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The championship season saw the Western Cape team lock in, and with heightened ambition, Moussi says their preparation was intense.

“I think 2022 was a cherry on the cake because of how we got ready. The preparation was intense. We trained almost every weekend for three to four hours. We put in the work,” said Dr Moussi. “Everyone knew we sacrificed a lot, so we must reward ourselves. So winning the championship, I can tell you we worked. We did not just wake up and decide to wing it. So, knowing the work we put in, we can look back with gratitude for those sacrifices.”

She also reflected on her MVP award of that season: “Winning the WBNL Most Valuable Player award was not just a personal triumph but also a testament to the enduring power of determination and the pursuit of excellence. The award was not solely mine, but it is dedicated to my family, friends, teammates, and coaches who supported me throughout my basketball journey.”

The decision to retire and U-turn

Following that title win with the Mountaineers, Moussi had temporarily called time on her career. She stated to the Full Court Press that the team management’s lack of acknowledgement for their success disappointed her.

“I think that week was mentally taxing. I want to accentuate the mental health component when it comes to basketball. To be put in that position was something I was not used to. Mentally, it took it’s on me,” said Dr Moussi. “So one of the reasons I took that decision at the time was for my mental health. Secondly, to win the trophy that we sacrificed a lot for. We won it for the province, and I felt, ‘let’s recognise that’.

“So, it was sad when it did not happen. But by taking a break, going back home and putting things into perspective, I realised this is a platform I want to compete in. There will be a few hiccups here and there, but this a platform I want enjoy for the time I still have it.”

Second final run with the Mountaineers

The Mountaineers captain and her teammates are heading to their second WBNL final after steamrolling past inaugural champions Egoli Magic last Sunday.

Dr Corinne Moussi and team coach Nataly September.
Dr Corinne Moussi says coach Nataly September has allowed her freedom to express herself on the court.

Ahead of Sunday’s final against season two champions, Tshwane Suns, Moussi spoke about her evolution as a player.

“This season, I thoroughly enjoy playing defence. I did not know that I could be a thief. I enjoy doing money heists (stealing the ball),” said Moussi, who has averaged 20 points per game this season. “Offence is okay. Somedays, it is okay, and on others, it’s not. I believe this season my defence has been exceptional.”

To put her defensive work into perspective, Moussi, who has been a defensive juggernaut, has averaged 6.3 steals per game and 11 rebounds per game. This season 66 of her boards came at the defensive end.

The veteran player sets the tone for her team at both ends of the floor, and it’s something she acknowledges.

“As captain, you have to lead by example. Intentionally or unintentionally, it’s a role I have accepted. It’s not easy because sometimes you can be off. If that is the case, it means the team is off too,” said Dr Moussi.

Looking at the final, Dr Moussi did not give a definite answer on whether they will defend their crown. She did, however, say what it would take to retain it.

“When I look at the Suns, they have veteran experience. You can’t take that away from them. We also have our experience. So, I think we can match them,” concluded Dr Moussi match them.

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