Window of opportunity opens for SA basketball

THE one thing I have always enjoyed about the basketball court is that it is a great leveller, it does not accept excuses and does not care about words, promises or social stature. It doesn’t care if you have had a good or bad day. It curries no favour!

As a player, all you need to do is think back to a moment where you thought you could cheat on preparation or sneak in a late night or disrespect the game or your competition; chances are that many, many times you came off second best. The opposite end of the scale is, of course, putting in the hard work and it translating into outstanding individual and team performances. I am simplifying here: the fact remains that the hardwood or concrete has taught many players and coaches tangible lessons about hard work yielding results. This is truly one of my favourite aspects because true mastery of this game requires work in so many facets, physical-technical-psychological, and it bears a striking similarity to the balancing act one needs to attain self-mastery: the meeting of mind-body-spirit. This, within a team dynamic, is what makes this game so compelling and enjoyable.

Why is this important? I think that post COVID-19, we are going to be challenged in ways never thought of before. The hard fact is that life will not be the same, it cannot be!

Social distancing will impact the playing, technical and spectating experience for every sport, not just basketball. We can be optimistic and know that the scientific minds will have a vaccine ready in the next 18 – 24 months. Meanwhile, we will all be challenged to think of creative ways to embrace the change that’s required because ignoring it could mean increased health risks and mortality. What that will mean practically, I don’t know, but it will be a challenge requiring collective effort never seen before.

The basketball community will be tested. We all want to see the game grow to heights we have imagined it reaching since the Premier Basketball League disbanded in 1998/9, and South African basketball was sent into a free-fall that it never recovered from. We have seen some positive developments and growth in tournaments and competition at high school, tertiary, club and 3×3 levels. This year presented so much hope for most of us in the basketball fraternity.

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Former South African basketball player Quintin Denyssen. Picture: Supplied

The Basketball Africa League is supposed to pioneer continental competition and is the flagship tournament that has seen federations within the southern Africa region finally start to get their houses in order. Sadly, the gap between southern Africa and the rest of Africa is noticeable with Mozambique and Angola carrying zonal hopes in continental competitions. The question is, will they or any country in the region be able to compete against formidable competition from the rest of Africa? All one needs to do is look at moves made by South Sudan voting in Loul Deng as federation president, Rwanda’s investment in the game, Senegal’s strong development programmes, and a stern examination of club strengths in those respective countries, to understand that we are lagging behind.

COVID-19 has presented a viable opportunity, and I say this with hesitation and constancy, for basketball administration in South Africa to become a competent vehicle and not a swear word. This hard reset can be the biggest opportunity to get things right. We all have a role to play. Checks and balances can be put in place. Outstanding governance matters at all levels can be attended to. An opportunity presents itself for efforts to ensure that basketball is recognised by SASCOC and acknowledged when global or continental competition delegations are constructed. There will never be a window like this again.

A final question that needs answering is, what can individual members of this community do to contribute to basketball’s growth? If we truly want to see the game flourish, then active basketball community citizenry is required. We all have a torch to bear, the onus is on us to identify our role, sharpen skills needed and capitalise on the opportunity presented to do things differently. A journey anywhere starts with the first step and whatever the step, this is our challenge and I believe we can make it work.

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