Ukpong’s balancing act nets big sponsor for Hoops Classic

ELVIS Ukpong’s day-to-day life revolves around basketball. He burns the candle at the school and professional level. Admittedly, both his jobs ask a lot of him and while the balancing act is not easy, great reward has manifested.

In the mornings until the end of the school day, Nigerian Ukpong serves as an educator and director of basketball at St David’s Marist Inanda, a school based in the affluent suburb of Sandton in Johannesburg, South Africa.

When the toil of shaping the minds of young men ends for the day, Ukpong begins his second job, being the general manager of the two-time national and BNLSA champions, Cape Town Tigers.

“My day starts at 7am. I am involved in the academic program and pastoral care duties of the school. In the afternoon we have the extra-mural activities and then later in the day I transition to the Tigers’ practice and other duties,” said Ukpong, a former media liaison officer of the Tigers.

“It is demanding. Tigers have their needs, and that must be done immediately. Luckily, there is a support system. We have people that help to make things happen. The school has its demands as well. I play a leadership role here. A lot depends on me regarding the flow of communication. So, it requires a lot of balance.”

Yes, pressure does come with the territory when holding down two jobs. But when they serve one ecosystem, there can be benefits.

Recently, Ukpong’s school basketball program scored a humungous win by acquiring a sponsor for their annual Inanda Hoops Classic Challenge, which runs from Thursday to Sunday.

Before speaking on the sponsorship, Ukpong touched on his basketball journey. He was a professional player, but sadly, his career was cut short by an off the court injury.

“I played school basketball back home in Nigeria. I also played professionally in Cote d’Ivoire for Fighters Abidjan. They were known as ABC when I played for them. You may have seen them play in the BAL,” said Ukpong.

“Unfortunately, I got into a car accident, which affected my right knee and it stopped my playing career.”

Elvis Ukpong second picture
Elvis Ukpong played professionally for Fighter Abidjan of Cote d’Ivoire. Pictures: The BTO

Fortunately, Ukpong did not close the door on basketball and found another way to stay involved in the game.

“I became a scout, and this is how I came to South Africa. I was with Basketball Without Borders as a scout. Later, I would be hired for the same job. That is how came to stay here (South Africa). From that, I saw there was a skills shortage and that is how I got involved in coaching,” said the former University of Ibadan student.

Ukpong has since grown from being a coach to now heading the St David’s program. Despite his upward trajectory, he still enjoys sitting on the bench and giving instructions. Also, what has been fulfilling for him, is seeing his pupils reach their potential.

“It’s been rewarding to see the kids learn the game… Seeing them play at the next level, which is university gives me joy. Some of them have gone to places like the United States to further their studies and improve their game. It has been rewarding to witness and be part of their growth,” said the former Soweto Panthers manager.


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It is not only the pupils that have come under the tutelage of Ukpong that have experience growth. He says engaging with the young men over the years has helped him develop his emotional intelligence.

“My temperament has changed. I used to be the coach who screamed a lot and was unnecessarily demanding. Now, I am more of a brother, a person who guides the kids and helps them to achieve their goals,” said Ukpong. “I am dealing with human beings and not chess pieces that I just move on the board. They are kids with emotions. I have realised that, over the years.”

Another aspect of Ukpong’s growth has been his ability to leverage the relationships he has built. He enticed Scott Pharoah, the owner of Pharoah Auto Investments, to sponsor the Inanda Hoops Classic Challenge, which is now in its sixth year.

“There is value in building relationships, especially at a personal level. It is through building relations that you get your message across. So, this opportunity came through engaging with Scott on a personal level,” said Ukpong.

“We invited him to several of the Tigers’ games. It exposed him to a different level of basketball. I think that played a role.”

Elvis Ukpong second picture
Elvis Ukpong, face mask, wants to serve in a managerial capacity in basketball.

The corporate investment has now put the Hoops Classic in a different light, and Ukpong agrees. It has also allowed St Davids to open the tournament to other schools.

“This sponsorship improves the scale of the tournament. We are going to the sixth edition, and it did get much recognition in the school circuit. Bringing in this sponsorship and getting exposure from the media helps to put the school’s name and the tournament out there.

“Also, before the sponsorship, schools used to pay an entry fee to enter. With Pharoah Auto on board, there is an opportunity for other schools that could not previously afford it (the fees) to participate.”

Ukpong has cultivated a niche for himself in basketball. Having acquired knowledge in the different spheres of the game, where does he want to serve in the future?

“I am moving more in the direction of management and less coaching. I want to set up a structure that will help me transition from coaching, to a higher level of management in basketball. That is what I see myself doing,” concluded Ukpong.

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