Making the right moves on and off the court

“Little did I know I was about to begin a beautiful journey”

FROM a young age, I was profoundly aware that who a person chooses to associate with, influences the way they lead their life, the people, places and things they are exposed to. With that knowledge, I could navigate my way through life with a certain amount of decent discretion in the choices that I made. Although I did not understand the depth of it then as I do now, it put me in a position to be in the right place, at the right time and with the right people.

How I got to be in the world of basketball is no different. In 7th grade, one Friday afternoon my friend, Oratile Nkwana told me that he was going for basketball practice. I must say, I was slightly irritated because it meant that I was going to walk home alone on that day. So, instead of journeying home alone, I decided to go and watch the practice while I waited for him. As we entered the courts, there we so many basketballs and many were in the air as everyone was shooting. It was loud and everyone looked like they were having fun.

Ipeleng Nyatlo believes making the right choices and good mentorship saved her from a lot of trouble. PICTURES: THE BTO

Coach Junior Mmoloke, one of the positive influences I have had as a player, took on the warm-up responsibilities that day. He made the practice so fun that I ended up joining. In my mind, I was just trying to keep fit as athletics season was over and I didn’t have any specific sport occupying my time after school. Little did I know I was about to begin a beautiful journey. I am glad I was friends with Oratile then because, through him, I was exposed to basketball.

At that time, I was a pupil at Matale Middle School in Rustenburg and Kgolagano Rakhudu was our school’s coach. Looking back to the time I spent around him made me realise how much of a mentor he was to me and his teachings saved me from a lot of trouble. There is a park right next to the stadium where most students would chill after school. Most of the time, I wished I could also ‘hang out’ because it seemed like the popular thing to do. Coach would always say, “don’t try to be like them when they want to be like you.” I now understand that deep down those students also wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves, but were maybe not brave enough to risk not being part of the ‘cool crowd’.

My coach’s investment in himself was evident in our growth as basketball players. In 2013, both the girls and boys team won the middle school division championship and our girls team also played for the provincial team. In the same year, the girl’s all-star team from the Royal Bafokeng Jr NBA program got an opportunity to compete in a provincial tournament. Before that, it used to be only the boys who would compete in tournaments outside the province.

Fast forward to varsity basketball, I realised how much the politics of gender influenced access and opportunities to basketball.  Men are the only ones who played in the inaugural Varsity Basketball tournament. Women are still waiting for a Women’s Basketball National League. Generally, women in sports get fewer opportunities than men. However, I am glad that the necessary conversations are being sparked and hopefully will continue to be systematically addressed. It is still a journey ahead of us on this matter.

Dreaming Big
Ipeleng Nyato dreams of giving back to basketball.

Overall, I would say participating in basketball has been a blessing. I’ve played for the provincial and national team, and participated in the global Basketball Without Borders camp, just to name of a few of my career highlights. Currently, I am on scholarship and pursuing my studies towards a Bachelor of Accounting Science degree at the University of the Witwatersrand. A lot has been in invested in me and I hope to repay that faith by giving back to basketball.

I want the next generation to experience playing internationally and to know that what they see in the country is not all there is to basketball. Since work ethic cannot be coached, I believe it can be ignited in the players once they get a glimpse of what their peers are doing in other parts of the world. I’m excited for them and the growth of the sport in general.

I believe it is the responsibility of those who know better, mostly the coaches, to continue equipping themselves to put the sport at the level it needs to be. Because the growth of basketball is directly proportional to the investment the coaches are willing to make in themselves, for the benefit of the players.

Of course, the whole basketball community is required for the growth of basketball. I believe we have to consistently focus on doing the right thing. And in this, we have to keep the interests of the sport at heart, on and off the court. Only then, will other stakeholders be interested in investing their resources in the sport.

The future belongs to those that prepare for it. We have to continue doing our part and everything else will fall into place.

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