South Africa eyeing a medal at Student Games

Mametja and his teammates are in a tough group

AFTER a 14-year absence from the FISU World Student Games, the South African men’s basketball team will make their return this year in Chengdu, China. Naturally, there is excitement from the players and a desire for the team to do well.

The South African men’s team last appeared in the Games in 2009 in Belgrade, Serbia

Also, the Games were set to take place in 2021, unfortunately, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic led to their postponement. Now they will resume in the same country and city (28 July – 8 August).

Two players in the form of team captain Allan Mametja, and his University of Pretoria teammate Nhlanhla Vela look forward to testing themselves against some of the best countries in basketball. Both players, who spoke to The Big Tip Off at the launch of Team South Africa on Tuesday at SASCOC (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) House, stated almost similar reasons for their excitement.

TEAM SA LAUNCH
South Africa captain Allan Mametja (middle) looks forward to leading his troops in Chengdu, China. Pictures: The BTO

Mametja, hopes the South African team, coached by Luthando Zulu, will inspire young people to believe in their dreams.

“Firstly, I want to thank everyone who helped me to get here. It’s not everybody that can get this opportunity. I am grateful to be named among the players that will represent their country,” said Mametja, who is studying towards a Bachelors Degree in Education. “We have not participated in the FISU games for a while. There is an opportunity for us and other upcoming players to get noticed because we do not get much exposure in this country.

“Also a young kid out there, who has seen us, will be inspired to put in their work to achieve their dreams.”

Big man Vela, who hails from the Eastern Cape, says it’s a privilege to be part of the team, as many youths from where he is from struggle to make it out.

“I feel excited. I thank God for blessing me with this opportunity and giving me the gift of basketball. Lots of people back home have supported me, so, I want to say thank you to them as well. Where I come from, not everyone makes it. So to be here, I appreciate it, and it’s a blessing,” said Vela, who is studying for a degree in Sports Science.

 

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While both players salivate at the prospect of wearing the national team vest, one player knows a lot rests on his shoulders. That is the captain of course. It is something he is aware of and a challenge he has accepted.

“There is so much responsibility, but I can handle the pressure and lead the guys. As the captain, I have to ensure the guys are comfortable. We have to play the right way so that we can get the results we want,” said Mametja.

Vela says being part of the South African team has made him realise that he is playing for something bigger than himself.

“When I play for my institution (University of Pretoria), I realised I am one of those players who can help the team win. We recently played with the national team at the Ashraf (Lodewyk) tournament, I realised it’s not just about me. It’s about the team,” said Vela.

“I should trust that my teammates. They are capable players, and we are like an all star team representing South Africa.”

In Chengdu, South Africa will be in Group A with hosts China, Brazil, Lithuania and Taiwan. All four countries have a high basketball pedigree, making Mametja and his teammate’s task difficult.

Despite the degree of difficulty, Mametja says he and the players can learn from their opponents.

“The matches will not be easy, but it is an opportunity to learn. It’s also a chance to see what other countries have and how they run their programs. We also have the chance to improve as players. We may think we are the best in our country, but there is more to this game than what we see here at home,” said Mametja.

FISU Student Games
Nhlanhla Vela, Sibongile Maswanganye (USSA Basketball Chairperson) and Allan Mametja.

The two players were not short of confidence about South Africa’s chances at the basketball tournament.

While Mametja spoke about “finishing on the podium”, Vela felt the team could win gold.

“I believe in my team. We are capable of winning gold. Yes, we are playing some of the best players, and it will not be easy. We have work hard and trust each other and win the gold. That is the goal,” said Vela.

The last word went to Mametja on the teams objective: “Everyone plays to win. So we have to perform at our best levels and have fun. But we want to be on the podium. If we see ourselves there, I think it will make a lot of people happy,” concluded Mametja.

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