Veteran Banza electrifying Mpumalanga Rhinos

JOHNNY Banza is a stand-out personality for the BNL franchise, Mpumalanga Rhinos. He is the type of player who brings energy, passion and leadership to this young team that made the playoffs last season and hopes to go a step further this year by making the final four.

Banza’s character traits have been a useful tool for the Rhinos. Team coach, Tutu Gama elaborated on why the Democratic Republic of Congo-born forward’s characteristics led to him being appointed captain of the team.

“He is my captain. I chose him because I like his intensity. The guy is from the DRC and is a beast who is very hard to box out. He uses his physique to his advantage, and towards the end he was the only one scoring,” said Gama, referring to the forward’s performance in the Rhinos’ 76-68 victory against the Panthers.

Banza, who is doing his Masters in Electrical Engineering at Vaal University of Technology, acknowledges his approach to the game, how his electric on-court persona, and style of play impacts positively for the Rhinos. The 32-year-old also believes it was his brashness and physicality that helped to seal the victory over the Panthers.

“That’s in me! Once I’m on the court, I want to leave it all there. It’s meaningless if you don’t. I am the captain, the oldest in the team, and have to lead by example. I have to display the right kind of energy for the young players,” said Banza, who dropped 14 points and crashed 10 boards against the Panthers.

Banza always tries to get the upper-hand against any opponent at both ends of the paint area. He uses his physicality and a bit of verbal jibing to take the opposing player off their game – something that worked well against the Panthers.

Rhinos captain Johnny Banza and his team have set their sights on a final-four finish in this year’s BNL. Picture: THE BTO

“The first thing for me is defence. It’s either you don’t score or I get the ball. I play defence and trash-talk to get the opponent frustrated. On offence, I bring the energy,” said Banza, who acknowledges that he is part of a dying breed of forwards.

“The new way of playing basketball is not about the big guy posting down low. The big guy can shoot outside and can drive in. We are trying to adjust to the new FIBA basketball.”

Reflecting on the match against the Panthers, Banza’s team had a strangle hold in the first three quarters of the game. When the Mpumalanga franchise momentarily loosened their grip in the fourth quarter, the Panthers clawed their way back. Reflecting on the Panthers’ quick fight-back and how the Rhinos regrouped to regain the lead, Banza says his team never once wavered in their commitment.

“It’s a game of basketball. There is a time when everything is working and when it doesn’t go your way. We had a very tough third quarter where nothing was working on both offence and even defence, and so we tried to adjust in the fourth quarter. We saw the mistakes, quickly applied the strategy the coach came up with, and won the game,” said Banza, who is in his fourth season with the Rhinos.

The Rhinos participated in the 2013 inaugural final of the BNL, but after that, they had a tough couple of seasons until last year when they made the playoffs. Banza believes the team, who have a 4-1 win-loss record this season, can reach the final four, an ambition highlighted by the team’s coach earlier.

“We are taking it one game at a time. The aim is to make it to the top four, but we have to get to the quarter-finals first,” said Banza, who believes they have a team capable of reaching their goal.

“I trust my teammates, coach and management. We have a young squad and some experienced players. We have energy. The team has  talented players who play varsity basketball. I trust them and believe we are going to do great things this season,” concluded Banza.

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