Ntlali shaping the basketball culture at Maties

Maties ended 2022 on a high note

WHEN one thinks of the small but vibrant town of Stellenbosch, good wine, fine dining and beautiful landscapes are the first things that come to mind.

From a sporting perspective, rugby is a favourite pastime, synonymous with one of South Africa’s oldest towns. But in recent times, basketball has been one of the codes fighting to become part of the town’s sports palate, especially at Stellenbosch University (SU).

Maties men’s head coach Masibulele Ntlali is one of the catalysts who has helped the sport gain prominance at the institution. Ntlali, who began the journey at Maties with the current University of Pretoria women’s team coach Kimathi Toboti in 2017, says they needed a change in scenery after a successful spell at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

“I think we were in a comfort zone at our previous job at CPUT. We had achieved everything we wanted nationally and within the province. In my first year at CPUT in 2014, we made it to the final of the USSA tournament,” said Eastern Cape-born Ntlali.

“So for myself, moving from CPUT, where basketball was a priority code, to Stellenbosch where it was a recreational activity, I saw it as a challenge and a way to gauge the impact I would have over here (Stellenbosch). It was a way of trying something new and understanding that the program had potential. That is why I decided to make the move.

“I had a wider scope to implement the things that suited the program here (Stellenbosch).”

Masibulele Ntlali
Masibulele Ntlali believes Maties job was a step out of his comfort zone. Pictures: The Big Tip Off

In switching to Maties, Ntlali was also cognisant that he had the gigantic task of trying to change the attitudes at the university, and he had to make mental adjustments of his own.

“It has been a long journey. The idea of coaching in Stellenbosch was foreign. I came from a culturally different institution and worked with people with whom I shared the same values,” said the former CPUT player. “Stellenbosch was different. I had to adapt to a new environment where basketball was initially not recognised at the university. So, I had to work on changing the minds of the management, the student-athletes and the Stellenbosch community.

“Luckily for us, the management came on board, and we were able to implement a student centred program.”

Ntlali, a former junior national team coach, says they had to overcome some infrastructural challenges to get their program going at the university.

“Basketball is an indoor sport, which can pose a problem from a development perspective. So, we had to encourage the institution’s leadership to build outdoor courts, which allowed us to run a campus league. This was a way of marketing the sport, and people could, on specific days, see that basketball was taking place,” said Ntlali, who works in Western Cape’s civil service. “After building momentum with the campus league. We then moved it indoors as a high-performance code. We could then engage with the management about the needs of the sport at that level and fortunately they (management) have been supportive.”

Masibulele Ntlali
Masibulele Ntlali gives Maties forward Miguel Ferrao instructions during the USSA tournament last year.

The Maties men’s program has reaped the rewards from the synergy of both parties (management and coaching staff), and December 2022 was the season to sow for the team. While the performances at the USSA’s were something to write home about, the Stellenbosch coach feels the groundwork done to get basketball going tops his highlights at SU.

“The first milestone was the day basketball became a high-performance code. It meant we had changed the perception about basketball at the university,” said Ntlali. “The second was presenting a three-year plan for the program. Initially, the university gave me a two-year contract, but I said, ‘no, that is not how the program runs’. So, being able to change the attitude of the management and getting them to understand that results do not come overnight is a big achievement.

“The third was taking the team to Kenya for a 3X3 tournament. It was a different kind of exposure for the team. And lastly, the recent USSA’s where we finished fourth, and our win of the three on three tournament were cherries on top.”

 

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Coaching basketball may be Ntlali’s primary role at Stellenbosch, but he stressed the concept of a student-athlete and outlined how the team is recruited. Before the players even think about stepping on the court, they must remember they are there to obtain an education.

“We run a four to five-year program, which centres around the students. They need to leave here (Stellenbosch) with a degree. That is important to me,” said Ntlali. “On the basketball front, we want to build a strong program that positively impacts the province and the country. So, any player who chooses to study at Stellenbosch comes here because they want a quality education and they are using their talent to access it.

“Winning the USSA’s is part of the bigger picture, but ensuring players get an education is our main priority. We do not have a big budget, so I cannot make wild promises to students about scholarships. If a student wants to play basketball at Stellenbosch, they do it with the understanding that they are here to study. And the programme recruits based on student applications. Once they are here, we see how best to assist with scholarships and sharpening their basketball skill.”

The Stellenbosch program seems headed in the right direction, and with Ntlali at the helm, great things could be in store.

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