Makoni finds solace on the basketball court

VUT’s success has come at a price

AT 24 years old, Emma Makoni is one of the most decorated players in South African basketball, a player who has achieved team and individual success, but for her, the basketball court is a space that gives her peace of mind.

The Zimbabwean international player has enjoyed success at the Basketball National League (BNL) and University Sport South Africa (USSA) levels.

Makoni, a guard/forward, is a student at one of South Africa’s revered basketball programs, the Vaal University of Technology (VUT). Since 2018, Makoni has been a part of a VUT women’s team dynasty that has captured four USSA titles.

Emma Makoni
Emma Makoni is one of the VUT team leaders. Pictures: The BTO

The championship runs have enhanced VUT’s reputation, but Makoni, who spoke to The Big Tip Off on Monday, says there have been detractors as well.

“Honestly, it has been amazing, but the success has a price. Not everybody is going to show you love. Even though we won last year, some people were not happy. I remember people roasting us on social media. They complained that we have been winning for too long and that it is time to give others a chance,” said Makoni, who holds a post graduate degree in Cost and Management Accounting.

The feats of the Vaal women’s team have been extraordinary, but they have, as Makoni explained, taken a physical and emotional toll. As a student-athlete on a scholarship, she has had to make sure that she keeps up with her academic and sporting obligations.

“It has been challenging. There would be times when I would go to my room and cry because I felt overwhelmed,” said Makoni. “I remember during my first year at VUT. We played in many leagues and tournaments.

“So, you have to find time to study during the week and weekends. It was quite overwhelming, but I managed to strike the right balance.”

Emma Makoni
Emma Makoni is undecided about her participation in the Zone VI qualifiers.

The 5ft10 player felt team unity was key to their success: “It’s about our togetherness as a team. Most of us stay in the same accommodation and spend time together. Vaal is a small town, so you see the same faces.

“So, the chemistry that we have built makes things easy on the court.”

Makoni’s success with VUT has also seen her become a back-to-back (2021 and 2022) USSA MVP. Looking back at her accolades, Makoni says when she won her first title, she was at peak form, but things were slightly tough last year.

“In 2021, I had things figured out. I was working out and fit, so it was easy on the court. I checked the games of that time, I scored twenty three points per game and I led in assists and steals,” said Makoni. “Last year was challenging. I had other responsibilities, but my coach pushed me and reminded I did not have to do eveything on the court alone. He wanted me to lead the team, so thing worked out well.”

Makoni’s achievements did not stop at the varsity level. In between winning the USSA championships, she would, for two years running, win WBNL titles with the Egoli Magic (2020) and Tshwane Suns (2021). In 2020, the inaugural season of the women’s league saw Makoni walk away with the MVP title.

The road to those WBNL titles presented contrasting fortunes for Makoni.

“Winning with Egoli Magic was easy because I played some of my Vaal teammates, and there were some alumni too. Also, having coach Zanele (Ngwenya) on the sidelines made things easy because he is always there to motivate players,” said Makoni, the only player to have won back-to-back WBNL titles. “When I switched teams, it was tough because we had to play Egoli Magic in the semi-finals. That week, I had terrible anxiety because I felt like I had betrayed Egoli.

“There were some issues because of the move I made. So the Suns winning that game was a relief because it would have had it rough at school.”

 

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Makoni’s trophy-laden spell in South Africa has led to a national team call-up ahead of the Zone VI AfroBasket qualifiers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (20-28 February).

Basketball may be challenging and have its pressures, but Makoni keeps coming back. Why?

“Sanity. When I am having a bad day, going to the court and holding that ball keeps me sane,” concluded Makoni.

 

 

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