Tshwane Suns

Shine reflects on character building basketball journey

Shine: BNL final will be a battle of inches

EMMANUEL Shine has experienced the ebbs and flows of basketball. He has tasted the thrill of success and the agony of losing. When he speaks about his journey in the game one gets a feeling of a character-building process preparing him for something greater.

From his early teens, Shine was multi-talented, especially on the sports field. Before throwing his lot with basketball, he dabbled in football and athletics. He even won a high jump title during his high school days.

It was the alluring culture of basketball made Shine fall hook and sinker. Another factor was that the game gave the former Pretoria High School for Boys pupil a sense of belonging.

“At high school, we had to choose summer sports, cricket, swimming and basketball. I was not a great swimmer, and I sucked at cricket. Basketball was my last resort,” said the Suns’ big man. “Also, that is where all the black kids had gone (basketball), so it felt like home. I also played club soccer for Glenwegians, as the school did not offer the sport. So basketball was not a priority in my grade eight year. It was only in the third term that I decided to give it a shot.

“What got me hooked was the culture. Basketball has a big culture around it. That is what made me fall in love with it.”

Emmanuel Shine reflects on character building journey
Emmanuel Shine has assumed the captaincy at Tshwane Suns. Pictures: The BTO

Shine had made rapid progress with basketball. In his grade nine year, he made the first team. But he would have to make another difficult choice between basketball and athletics – where he had also found success.

“As a young kid in an all-boys school, you like to be admired for your achievements. I played first team (basketball) before any of my peers, and it felt good. That drove me and kept me going,” said Shine, who matriculated at Boys High. “I quit soccer but found myself torn between basketball and athletics. I was the high jump national champion but I was in love with basketball.

“Again, basketball and its culture called me. It is why I have gone all the way with the sport, and that’s the reason I am where I am now.”

Being brought down to earth at University Pretoria

While his present holds a lot of promise, Shine says while he enjoyed success at the high school level, the transition to university presented a different challenge. His first year at the University of Pretoria (UP) was a humbling experience, but he also grew as a player.

“I came to UP with a bit of a big head. Having been the man in high school, I quickly got humbled. I realised there were guys much older than me … Five, six, seven years older playing at varsity, and I had to adjust,” said Shine. “University on its own is hard … Initially, I thought I would come in the team and choose my number. I thought I would be number 13 again, but coach Lesiba (Malothane) brought me down to earth. I had to choose a number no one wanted which was 12, and I started off the bench because I was a rookie.

“What I did enjoy was, moving from the position of getting the ball at the low block, where you bump bodies and score, to needing to make free throws, making mid-range shots, playing defence and dribbling the ball up the floor.”

While he was honing his skillsets at UP, the process had its forgettable and memorable moments. Shine explained that his first University Sports South Africa (USSA) tournament for UP was a downhill experience from the first game.

“That was my worst USSA. We played against UJ (University of Johannesburg). We did not know what hit us. They (UJ) just whacked us. Later that night, we played against UCT (University of Cape Town), a game we should have won but didn’t,” said Shine. “We ended up playing in the classification games. We were at the tournament for five days, but we had little motivation because of how we had been performing on the first day.”

 

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Fortunately for Shine, his final year at UP saw him bow out with a degree of satisfaction. In the second year of the Varsity Cup, the institution from the capital city would make the final but fell to UJ.

“It was my first Varsity Cup and also my last year. That year was tough because we lost some players. The way the competition works is players need to have a certain amount of credits and be under 25 years to play,” said Shine. “So we lost one of our starters, Manelisi Mthiyane, but the blessing was other players who never got a look in had an opportunity. That was also my most successful run at UP because there was dependence on me and Ludwig (Gerdes).

“Nobody expected us to beat UJ and Wits in the group stages. Or to even qualify for the finals. That was massive. In my last year, to make the finals. It was beautiful.”

Winning with the Suns

Now to his present, Shine, who has campaigned in the Basketball National League (BNL) since 2016 and won his first title last year, could potentially win his second league title with the Tshwane Suns, who beat the Mpumalanga Rhino earn their place in Sunday’s final. 

This year’s title run is distinctive for Shine because he assumed the captaincy of the four-time league winners from the start of the season. He will, on Sunday, lead the defending champions to the final against the star-studded Cape Town Tigers.

Emmanuel Shine third picture
Emmanuel Shine believes his team has a good leadership core.

The former Egoli Magic player says leading the team was already in the works from last year. With long-serving captain Kagiso Ngoetjana taking a break from the game, he began to mentor Shine.

“It was already known last year. Chief kept telling us that he was stepping away from the game. Being friends already, he started giving me some responsibilities. So the transition was smooth. I never feel that I have to go out of my way to lead anybody because we are a team of leaders,” said Shine, who served as vice-captain of the franchise last year.

“My job is made super easy because of the seniors in the team. Our youngest player Holy (Mandungu), has a mind of a veteran. He knows how to approach the game. When the youngest player has that frame of mind leading the team becomes secondary.”

The unbeaten Suns will need all the players to be at their best against the Tigers, who are also undefeated. Shine feels their adversaries will be under pressure because of their achievements over the last two years.

“We have to give them their props because they are setting the standard for professionalism in South Africa. I have played with some their players. Guys like Lebesa (Selepe), Dylan (Whitbred) and Lebogang (Mofokeng) these are guys that train hard. They have coach Florsh (Ngwenya), one of the best coaches we have in the country,” said Shine.

“You don’t go into this game fearing your opponent. We must appreciate that we have earned the right to be here. I think it’s going to go down to inches, like fighting for that loose ball or that rebound.

“They are under a lot of pressure because of their accomplishments. They made back-to-back play-offs in the BAL (Basketball Africa League). We also have pressure because we are the defending champions and want to prove we deserve to be here.

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Mthembu’s goal is to win championships

“Don’t let this pandemic stop you from paying that daily rent”

LONG time servant in the Basketball National League and one club man, Somusa Mthembu of Tshwane Suns discusses his basketball journey on The Big Tip Off.

Q: Where and when did your love for basketball develop?

A: My love for basketball developed back home in KwaZulu-Natal when I was still a young boy. I used to see certain tall guys walk past my house now and then, playing with a big ball using their hands. I was fascinated and wanted to be just like them. And from then on, the rest is history.

Q: As a young player, who played the biggest role in your development?

A: Two men by the names of Luthando (forgot his surname) and Seann Rubinek. Luthando taught me the basics and took me to my first provincial trials, which is where I met Seann, who taught me everything I know. I credit them for my development as a young player.

Q: How would you describe yourself as a player?

A: I love to win, so I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen. At the same time, I’m a team player, so I’ll take a step back sometimes so my teammates can shine and we all feel like we contributed to a win.

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Somusa Mthembu wants to improve his handles and on court vision. Pictures: THE BTO

Q: What are the strong aspects of your game?

A: I’m athletic, agile, quick and I shoot pretty well.

Q: What aspects of your game do you feel you can improve on?

A: My handle and court vision.

Q: You have been a constant presence in the Basketball National League (BNL) and with one club, Tshwane Suns, what keeps you coming back?

A: They are the best team in the league.

Q: You are a three-time BNL champion. Which one the championships is your most memorable? And why?

A: The first one would be my most memorable because it was the third time I realised one of my dreams. I became a senior provincial player, professional player and a national champion in a space of two years.

Q: How did you feel when you received your first senior national team call-up? 

A: I was overjoyed. Especially because they called my name last. I was so nervous. I came back home and cried with excitement when I told my parents.

Q: What is your goal in basketball (with your team and individually)?

A: With my team, my goal is championships, always. Individually, I want to be simply the best.

Q: Who is the greatest player in South Africa? And Why?

A: I can’t answer that question because there were many players before my time that were great and I’ve only seen a few. To say that so and so is greatest wouldn’t be accurate. I will say, I want to be the greatest though!

Q: Who is your favourite player in basketball? And why? 

A: Kobe “Bean” Bryant. He is the reason I started watching basketball.

Q: Who is the toughest player you have faced on the court? And why?

A: Dr. Fumani Marhanele. I was never composed when guarding him, because he was quicker, stronger and jumped just as high as I did, so I didn’t know how to stop him.

Q: What is your favourite basketball quote? And why?

A: “If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready” … I had to learn that, the hard way. Shout-out to Neo “Miyagi” Mothiba for that lesson.

Q: What was your lowest moment in basketball? And why?

A: My first national team game. I was very nervous because I had been benched two games prior (rookie minutes they called it). I subbed in, travelled, showed my frustration and was subbed out. I’ll never forget that moment. I felt like the worst player in the world.

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Somusa Mthembu believes becoming a father has given him a different perspective of life.

Q: If you were not a basketball player what would you be doing? And why?

A: I would either be a soccer player, athlete (sprints and triple jump) or an animator. I have a love for those professions as well.

Q: What kind of character is Somusa on the basketball court? 

A: High energy. Hype man. The loudest guy on the court. You will not be short of confidence when I’m around and I’ll put in maximum effort every time.

Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your life, off the basketball court? And why?

A: My twin brother. He gets me!

Q: What has been your greatest achievement off the basketball court? And why?

A: Having my beautiful daughter. It has put a lot of things into perspective.

Q: What are you doing to stay in shape during this time of COVID-19?

A: I’ve been using training programs that I’ve worked with over the years. They’ve helped me stay in shape during this lockdown, so I’m grateful for them.

Q:  What words of encouragement do you have during this time of COVID-19?

A: Take it seriously. Stay safe and protect each other. This too shall pass. There is nothing the human body can’t adapt to. It’s only a matter of time and until then let’s do the right things and keep in mind that our goals as individuals are still valid. So don’t let this pandemic stop you from paying that daily rent. Work on your craft!

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Let us have the uncomfortable conversations

“A couple of spin moves and an elbow to my jaw, quickly put me in my place”

I used to dream of being a Protea cricketer alongside Makhaya Ntini and Graeme Smith. Basketball had never even crossed my mind until I trialled for it in grade 8. It’s comical to think that the game has become such a large part of my life when I did not even get selected for a team at the trials, but since that experience, I have been hooked. I put a hoop up in my driveway and stayed glued to ESPN (when DSTV still had channel 230), studying NBA highlights and re-enacting them on the driveway. Since those days the game has gifted me constant challenges, experiences, life lessons, teammates that turned into brothers, and important figures in my life. It has and will continue to be a constant in my life.

Finding my feet
Thankfully after my grade 8 trials, I found my feet and the love for the game through a welcomed growth spurt and grooming from two of my first great coaches, Chris Kaniki and Mpumi Ramatsoga. I enjoyed my high school career. Pure love for the game and brotherhood in the team fuelled my passion and made my decision to continue playing after I matriculated, a no-brainer.

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Ludwig Gerdes honed his skills further at UP-Tuks. Pictures: The BTO

School of hard knocks
I played my university basketball at UP-Tuks. I joined the team in 2013, which can only be described as an overwhelming experience. I was a rookie in a team filled with accomplished and experienced players; Tichifara Mabiza, Dumisani Moyo, Kevin Manganye and coached by South African basketball legend, Neo Mothiba. I was humbled as a cocky high school player very early in my university career; a couple of baseline spin moves by Kagiso Ngoetjana and an elbow to the jaw by Mlungisi Long Shongwe quickly put me in my place and made me realise the work I still needed to do.

A few years down the line and a few injuries behind me, I can say I enjoyed my varsity career. I played five USSA tournaments, two Varsity Basketball tournaments (finals appearance in 2019), won a bronze medal at the 2016 CUCSA Games in Bulawayo and a gold medal in the 2018 CUCSA Games in Gaborone.

I walk away from UP-Tuks having been moulded by phenomenal leaders and coaches; Tich Mabiza, Neo Mothiba, Danny Molothane and George Makena, who played significant roles in my growth as a player and young man.

My Journey into the BNL
Andile Hlophe came up to me after a Friday Night Lights game at Wits and told me to come and trial for the Mpumalanga Rhinos, which eventually led to my debut in the Basketball National League (BNL). It was again another humbling experience but Andile showed consistent faith in me and this confidence in me, helped to elevate my game.

The following year I signed with three-time BNL champions, Tshwane Suns, a team I had been following since the inception of the league in 2013. I was honoured to wear the same kit once worn by Neo Mothiba, Allen Danga, Tich Mabiza, Larry Jackson and Mlungisi Shongwe; men I saw as absolute basketball warriors. I played a minute role in the 2017 BNL championship, but it taught me so much about a winning culture and how much it takes to win at that level. These are lessons I will put to good use in the coming years. I do feel as if my professional career is yet to explode and that my best basketball is yet to come. With new opportunities such as the Basketball Africa League (BAL) coming about, I hope to peak at the right time.

Ludwig Gerdes
Ludwig Gerdes in action for three-time BNL champions Tshwane Suns.

Stepping out of my comfort zone
I have missed the game during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has understandably had to take a backseat. Also, more emphasis has been placed on social injustices (#BlackLivesMatter and gender-based violence) happening locally and abroad. I am realising more and more my privileged position in society. As a white male, I socially start every game, up 20 points. I can’t pretend to fully understand what those affected by these injustices go through. I may not have any immediate solutions to the injustices. However, I am opening my eyes, being more aware and learning from those that experience the injustices. I am listening to those who are providing possible solutions so that I can play my part. I would suggest that anyone who holds a position similar to mine does the same. Let us have the uncomfortable conversations and let us not hide in our comfort and privilege.

To sum up my basketball journey; my best days are ahead of me, my best game is ahead of me, my best season is ahead of me, and I want to share the platform.

 

 

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Will Suns have the magic touch in top of the table battle?

TSHWANE Suns and team coach Dr Yiannis Grapsas did not get off to the right start in their opening game against the Soweto Panthers, but since that loss, his team have enjoyed an upward trajectory. The Suns have won five games in a row and on Friday they will step on the Wembley Stadium court against Egoli Magic with an air of confidence.

Since taking over the coaching role at the Tshwane franchise Dr Grapsas has been re-engineering his team’s approach to the game. While results have been forthcoming, the Suns coach is a pragmatist and understands that playing philosophies take time for players to grasp. The match against their unbeaten Basketball National League (BNL) rivals is important, but the bigger picture is as paramount for the Greek coach.

“It’s exciting. It will be an interesting game, between two good teams and we are ready. We are not yet at 100%. I have talked to my guys. I told them that this is a second step to achieving the goal we set ourselves at the beginning of our collaboration,” said Dr Grapsas on Wednesday night, during his team’s practice at the Pilditch Indoor Basketball court.

While the Suns’ 5-1 record makes for good reading, Dr Grapsas as mentioned earlier is more concerned about a greater objective.

Tshwane Suns captain Kagiso Ngoetjana always strives to improve his game. Pictures: The BTO

“There are two ways of looking at it. Firstly, we have to look at our final goal, which is to create a strong team. We want to play good basketball, we want to put pressure on opposing defences, utilise set plays and fast breaks effectively. Secondly, we are ready to face Egoli. If we apply what we are doing in practice I think it will be easy for us. We respect Egoli, but we also want our playing quality to show,” said the Suns coach, who clarified his playing ethos.

“The most important thing in a game of basketball is spacing and timing. I am focused on that. I want us to take advantage of our skills. We have good big men and frontline. If we create set plays for them, we will have more opportunities to win the game,” said Dr Grapsas.

One of the big men the Suns will look to is team captain and forward, Kagiso Ngoetjana, who has been one of the go-to players in offense. Ngoetjana has been a figure of consistency for the Suns during the season, using his physique well inside the paint area and has a sweet jump-shot.

 
 
 
 
 
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According to statistics provided by Geniussports, Chief as Ngoetjana is known, leads the scoring for the Suns, averaging 16 points per-game and it is this consistency at the offensive end that the team from the capital city will rely on to get the better of Egoli.

Ngoetjana believes his team is up for the challenge posed by the unbeaten Johannesburg-based franchise.

“I am confident about our team’s chances. We are hungry for this game, it’s a great challenge and a chance for us to gauge ourselves, said the former Mpumalanga Rhinos captain.

“They have big guys like Reece (Prinsloo) and Everisto (Pasipamire) to rebound offensively, but on our side, we have good players and set plays that can crack their system. I trust our set plays and system and will rely on them to come out victorious.”

Reflecting on the season he is having so far Ngoetjana, pointed out that he is not resting on his laurels and always seeks to improve his game.

“I am always a student of the game. I don’t stay in a comfort zone, I always try to find ways to improve my game so that I can have a competitive edge,” said the Suns captain.

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Grapsas bringing a new philosophy to SA basketball

THE nickname “doctor” in sport is usually reserved for a player blessed with great skill, finesse, ability and players that always grab the headlines for their game-winning performances.

Pretoria basketball franchise Tshwane Suns has gone a step further and employed a real doctor as head coach of their team and his name is Dr Yiannis Grapsas from Greece. Looking at his credentials, one notices they are an honour roll that reads like a book of a man whose career centres around basketball. Grapsas is a well-travelled coach and has accumulated a wealth of knowledge. Now, he is dispensing that knowledge in South Africa, with the Suns as benefactors.

“I have coached for over 25 years in Greece, in the United States for a year-and-a-half, and in many European countries. Now I am here to work with South African basketball,” said Grapsas, who holds a PhD in Physical Education.

Dr Yiannis Graspas has a talk with his players in their opening against Soweto Panthers. Pictures: The BTO

Grapsas spent part of his preparation last year observing the Suns before assuming the head coaching role at the Tshwane franchise. Acknowledging the talent of his players, he contends there is a little bit more polishing needed in their game.

“I watched the Tshwane Suns last year and I watched a lot of games last season. I have noticed that players in South Africa have a lot of skill. We need to go back to the fundamentals and building the right player attitude towards basketball,” said Grapsas emphasising the philosophy he’s trying to introduce to the Suns.

“For example, we are trying not to play the run-and-gun basketball played here in South Africa. We are trying to apply a specific strategy for our team but it’s been challenging at times for the players to grasp what has to be done, especially when it comes to spacing and timing.”

The Suns coach would not occupy the role that he does if he did not have the antidote for his team’s problem and it’s a simple one. “The solution to this problem is practice, we need more time at practice,” said Grapsas.

The Basketball National League season is two weeks old, and the Suns have played three games, winning two (against Western Cape Mountaineers and KwaZulu Marlins) and losing one (their opener against Soweto Panthers). The Greek-born coach gave a breakdown of what went wrong against the Panthers and what he has done to correct it.

“It was the first experience for us. The guys tried to apply all the information they received during the training sessions. We lost a lot of time getting them to execute what we had practiced. So, it was a problem but with time the guys now understand what they have to do, the new philosophy, and we have great results,” said Grapsas, who has worked with experienced NBA coaches Maurice Cheeks and Tony DiLeo and NCAA coaches, Jay Wright and Fran Dunphy.

On his ambition with the Suns, Grapsas feels it has to be about more than just winning trophies. Listening to his words, the Greek coach wants to create a legacy project. One that could also be adopted by South African basketball.

“We have to have a long discussion, we have to change the goals, they have to focus on a different philosophy to create a strong team for the coming years, and be able to provide players for the South African national team. We also have to focus on the Basketball Africa League, and if we want to have a great team that can compete in that league, we have to work a lot and clarify our goals,” concluded Grapsas.

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