Lebesa Selepe

Selepe looks forward to exciting new chapter in SA basketball

LEBESA Selepe, the co-captain of the Cape Town Tigers, hopes his third season at South Africa’s premier basketball club will be a charm as they prepare for elite competition at home.

At an open media practice held at the Mandeville Sports Complex, a week ahead of Season 4 of the Basketball Africa League (BAL), The Big Tip Off caught up with Selepe, who spoke about his journey with the Tigers, representing the South African men’s national team, and the Tigers’ preparation for the BAL’s Kalahari Conference.

The conference begins on Saturday at the SunBet Arena in Pretoria, and the Tigers face off against Burundi’s Dynamo Basketball Club (7 pm CAT) in the last game of the opening night.

Lebesa Selepe at the Maslow
Lebesa Selepe is excited about the BAL expanding to South Africa. Pictures: The BTO

The Tigers gave the public a glimpse of the team during an open practice. While their preparation has been minimal, something Selepe acknowledges, he feels the little they have could suffice. 

“The difference now in our preparation is that previously we had a lot more time, but I think that things are coming together naturally and we are comfortable with what we have,” says 32-year-old Selepe. “We have cut it short but a little preparation is better than no preparation at all.”

The two-time national club champions had one practice match the day after their media day, which was against Jozi Nuggets. Before that, Selepe and six of his Tigers teammates were part of the South African national team that came up short against Mozambique in a two-leg 2025 AfroBasket pre-qualifier in Maputo two weeks ago.

Despite the disappointment, Selepe says the trip to Mozambique helped build the mental toughness required in international play.

“International basketball will either make you or break you. You play in hostile conditions like Mozambique on a back-to-back in front of a jam-packed crowd,” says Selepe. “We went there and we fought, unfortunately, we fell short. We left with our heads held high because we represented our country to the best of our ability.”

 

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Despite narrowly missing out on qualification for the continental championship, it seems the trip to Mozambique had a positive effect on the Tigers players who were part of the national team. It also showed in the way they practised at Mandeville.

The South African Champions showed some promising flashes during their practice run, and with local players like Samkelo Cele and Nkosinathi Sibanyoni taking on more responsibility, it is clear that this team is different from what we have seen before.

In typical Tigers style, the 12-man squad has brought some surprises, including the return of Billy Preston and some fresh faces. The new additions of Ngor Manyang, Storm Gilchrist and Deshawndre Washington have been welcomed into the Tigers’ family, as Selepe describes it.

“Billy Preston, who was one of our leading scorers during his last stint with us, is back. He is an incredibly talented player and we expect him to pick up right where he left off,” says Selepe. “He’s looking as sharp as ever, but with the added benefit of experience and a higher basketball IQ due to his age. I’m happy to have him back.”

Lebesa Selepe at the playoffs
Lebesa Selepe is confident the Tigers will do well despite the short time to prepare for the BAL Kalahari Conference. Picture: FIBA

The former Jozi Nuggets player feels he has grown as a player and leader in the team.

“I am a lot more comfortable now, playing basketball at this level as compared to when I first joined the Cape Town Tigers,” says Selepe. “Although I had been playing basketball, at the time, I was still working a 9-5 too, but now my work is basketball. I know where my strengths lie and I am not trying to do too much.”

As Selepe and Tigers welcome Petro de Luanda, FUS Rabat, and Dynamo to the nation’s capital, he feels the arrival of the Kalahari Conference is just what the doctor ordered.

“It was only a matter of time before something this big happened. I am glad it’s happening while I am still able to run up and down the floor,” says Selepe. “For some people, this opportunity came when they had already retired and closed this chapter of their career.”

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Selepe is living out his basketball dreams

Tigers eyeing a return to the BAL

THE latter part of 2021 saw combo guard Lebesa Selepe face a crossroads as a man and basketball player. It was also a time of revelation for him.

Soweto-born Selepe, a part-time player at the time, was facing turmoil at his previous workplace in the financial sector, and his relationship with Jozi Nuggets owner and coach, Andile Hlophe had gone south.

The 31-year-old revealed that things began to unravel for him during his transition to the Cape Town Tigers. It was in that period of unravelling that the doors of opportunity would also open for Selepe. The Cape Town club were keen on his services ahead of last year’s Elite 16 tournament of the Road To BAL and fortunately for him, his trial was successful.

“Former coach Relton Booysen hit me up to find out if I was available for a workout with the team (Tigers). At the time, I was on suspension at work and about to be dismissed. So, I had time,” said Selepe at the Mandeville Sports Complex last Friday. “At the workout, team owner Rah (Raphael Edwards) liked what he saw. I also clicked with most of the players in the team.”

Lebesa Selepe
Lebesa Selepe has realised some his dreams since he turned pro. Pictures: The Big Tip Off

When questioned about the prospect of losing a regular income and his state of mind at the time, Selepe says he had experienced far worse. Also, the words once spoken by his mom during a time of adversity have always given him the perspective he needed when he was facing such predicaments.

“I’d like to take you to the worst grief I have ever felt. It was when my father passed on. My mom said something profound to me. ‘Yes, we are mourning, and it’s a dark time, but we have to keep moving. We have to make funeral arrangements, so if you want to cry, do it at the funeral parlour. Cry while getting things done,'” said the former South African international player. “So when it came to the job, mentally and emotionally, I knew it was a hard hit. I had lost my livelihood but now another chance to do what I loved had also presented itself.”

Selepe used his opportunity to immerse himself wholly in basketball. With the Tigers, he had become a professional player, and another opportunity opened up for him in media.

“I have always wanted to be involved in all aspects of basketball… to be a commentator, and to coach. There was no time for me to sit and wallow about losing my job because things were beginning to happen. I had the opportunity to play in the Basketball Africa League (BAL), which was a dream come true for me. I had to move forward and put it behind me,” said the former Vaal University of Technology student and player.

 

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Before becoming a full-time player with the Tigers, Selepe thought the gig with the Cape-based club would be short-term as he still had a sentimental attachment to the Nuggets. Instead, it became a journey where he would achieve some career milestones as a player.

“When I left the Nuggets, I thought it would be a temporary move. I did not think the Tigers and I would have a long-term relationship or I would play in the BAL for them. I thought they only wanted me for the Elite 16,” said the former Jeppe Boys High student. “In my mind I thought I would return to the Nuggets, but my relationship with coach Andile hit a dip. We are on talking terms now, but at that time, I did not think I could still play for him. It’s part of the reason I’m no longer at the Nuggets.”

The chapter on the Nuggets has since closed, and the Tigers and Selepe experienced their first BAL tournament this year, where they bowed out at the quarter-final stage. Despite the surreal experience of being at the continental tournament, Selepe felt when he got his minutes at the BAL, he played below expectation.

“The BAL is one of the biggest stages I have played on in my career. Each day I prepared myself, training and hitting the weight room. Even when I talked about it, I still could not believe I was going to be on the biggest stage in Africa. I played at the 2017 AfroBasket, which was my first major competition, and four years later, it’s the BAL,” said Selepe. “The emotions were a lot, which impacted how I played as I was not in my element. I was part of a new team and going to a big stage. Those things affected me.

“I also did not play much, and when I did play, I was bit frustrated. But I will say this, it was a great position to be in, and I cannot wait to be there again.”

 

The Tigers would exit their first BAL tournament after a quarter-final loss to eventual champions US Monastir. Selepe’s assessment of their debut season was that they took their eye off the ball early on in the games.

“Against Monastir, we repeated the mistake we made against Petro and Zamalek in the group stage. We went to sleep and got  punished and we played outside of our system.  So it’s something we have improved on (playing within the system). We have also worked on limiting our turnovers, taking bad shots, and stopping the opposition runs,” said Selepe. “I know it sounds cliché, but in basketball, you must concentrate for forty minutes. It was not the case against Monastir. It was a twelve-point game in the third quarter and fifteen point game at the end of the same quarter. In the fourth, you could see early on that we were going to lose the ball game.

“We were down by thirty, and things got ugly real quick because we played outside the system. What we learnt in recent games against the NBA Academy and Petro is that playing within the system can lead to a game being decided by a few things. A free throw, a rebound or a bucket. So it’s just those minor details.”

Lebesa Selepe
Tigers player Lebesa Selepe in action during a scrimmage against Mozambique’s Maxaquene.

The Tigers and Selepe will not have to wait long for their shot at making a return to the BAL next year. With the Elite 16 Division East Road To BAL qualifier soon to take place (22 to 27 November), the Cape club who will host the tournament in Johannesburg is raring to go.

The South African club are in Group A alongside Burundian club, Urunani, the NBA Academy and the Kenya Ports Authority. Looking at the group, the Tigers, who have loft ambitions will face stiff competition from all three teams.

“We want to finish the Elite 16 without a defeat. It is something we have spoken about, trying to finish the year undefeated. Unfortunately that did not happen. We lost to Petro and the NBA Academy and those are losses we can take,” said Selepe. “Looking at our group, we know anything can happen on this continent, and any team can beat you. That is why we must lock in so that we can send a message. A loud one! We don’t only want to qualify for the BAL. We want to win the BAL.

“That will show in how we play. We feel we are 23 points better than our opposition but we now have to show it when the lights are on.”

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