Tuks Basketball

Sidondi: I am a student of the game

FORMER University of Pretoria basketball player Litha Sidondi talks to The Big Tip Off about her experiences in the game and what she looks forward to when the sport resumes.

“I don’t think any of us are built for mediocrity, we are all built to LIVE”


BTO: When and where did you develop your love for basketball?
LS: Towards the end of primary school, I started paying more attention to the game, led by many elements. Movies like Coach Carter. My aunt, who played basketball at university. The late Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers solidified everything for me. And Diana Taurasi (I wanted to be as lethal as she is from the 3-point line).

BTO: Who are the role players that helped in your development as a player?
LS: My parents. They built us a hoop at home and that is how I developed my skills. They also bought me my first and only kicks. My high school coaches (coach Danny in grade 8 and coach Leak in grade 9) also played a role in my development. I had sessions with my brother and one of my good friends as well.

BTO: What are the strong points of your game?
LS: I can defend, shoot and dribble well.

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Litha Sidondi in action for Tuks. Pictures: Supplied

BTO: What aspects of your game, do you feel need work?
LS: Confidence in my game as well as the aspects mentioned above because there’s always room to grow. Furthermore, I need to get physically stronger, so that I don’t get tossed around on the court.

BTO: How would you describe yourself as a basketball player?
LS: I am a student of the game. I am committed to helping my team in whichever way I can. I work hard. I am very tenacious and resilient. I am all about the team – in practice and games.

BTO: Do you remember your first basketball game? What was the experience like for you?
LS: I don’t remember too many details about it. I just remember getting the ball and taking a shot but I didn’t jump when I took that shot. At the time I had not yet distinguished which hand was the shooting hand and which was for balancing the ball. So the ball didn’t go in. I think we got the win, but I had a lot to work on.

BTO: Who is the toughest player you have faced on the court? And why?
LS: Whoever is the most confident in themselves at the time that I have to guard them. Because it is going to take a lot of effort to find out what their weak points are and take advantage of them.

BTO: Who is your favourite teammate? And why?
LS: I don’t have a favourite teammate. I just appreciate the commitment, presence in practice and games as well as effort.

BTO: Who in your opinion is the best player in South Africa? And why?
LS: I haven’t been keeping up with basketball here in South Africa to answer this question truthfully.

BTO: What has been the low point of your basketball career? And why?
LS: I left my first high school (Pretoria High School for Girls) for boarding school at the end of grade 9. Grade 10 was good for me in that I had kept the lessons I had learnt from my coaches, which resulted in me playing for under 16’s and 1st team at my new school (Wykeham Collegiate). However, the confidence I had in my game went down for various reasons. By the time I was in matric, the love I had for the game was in question. And that resulted in me taking a hiatus by the time I got to university.

BTO: What has been the highlight of your basketball career? And why?
LS: It was grade nine. I was playing my best basketball at that point. The team I was a part of just had an energy that pushed you as an individual to be better. I guess it was pressure, but the pressure is a privilege, to have somebody counting on you and you counting on them. Also, in that same year, I was part of the touring team that went to the Pietermaritzburg Girl’s High School basketball tournament. In matric, I got half colours for basketball at my boarding school even though I had only arrived in grade 10 as my testimonial says.

BTO: What have you missed about being away from the basketball court during the lockdown? And why?
LS: Just being able to shoot the ball. The hoop isn’t up anymore so I have not shot the ball in a long time.

BTO: How have you been keeping fit during the lockdown?
LS: Body weight workouts ranging from squats to push-ups and so on. Cardio workouts such as jump rope and running up and down the stairs here at home.

BTO: What are you looking forward to when basketball eventually resumes?
LS: Practice.

BTO: Do you remember your first basketball sneakers? And why?
LS: Yes, because they were Jordans.

BTO: What sneakers are you currently rocking?
LS: Those same Jordans.

BTO: What are your goals in basketball or an alternative career?
LS: In grade 7, on career day we had an opportunity to dress up for the careers we saw ourselves in. I showed up in a full Chris Paul Charlotte Hornets kit simply because I couldn’t get Diana Taurasi’s WNBA kit. I would love to play professionally, and even if I get called up in my 50’s, I’ll suit up.

BTO: Who is Litha off the basketball court?
LS: First and foremost, I am a born again Christian. I am a determined, driven, kind and empathetic young lady. I’m team-oriented and independent.

BTO: What are your hobbies?
LS: I love music, my taste is eclectic. I read (well that’s something I’m developing again). I hang out with friends when I can but I am just a homebody. I play NBA2K with my brother but don’t sleep on me with regards to FIFA, my family trained me up. I watch a lot of movies, I can watch the same movies over and over again as if I’m watching it for the first time so I’m extra talented. Lastly, I’m currently working on spending more time off of my phone.

BTO: What is your favourite sport or general life quote?
LS: ‘Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.’ – Denzel Washington

BTO: How would you like to be remembered as a person and a basketball player?
LS: I would like to be remembered as a player who had fun while playing the game she loved, and as a person who inspired others to live their lives to the fullest (through Jesus). I don’t think any of us are built for mediocrity, we are all built to LIVE.


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Mthiyane still has more to accomplish on the court

MY basketball journey started on St Thomas Road at the prestigious Durban High School (DHS). When I arrived, DHS was ranked the number one basketball school in the country and continued its tradition of dominance of on South African courts.

At the beginning of my grade 8 year, DHS head coach, Letha Zulu, made us aware that it should be an honour to don the blue and gold. We were told tales of the legends that had worn the uniform and how they never let the badge down.

Names like Nhlanhla Dlamini, Stenga Khumalo and Dumisani Gabashe, who have worn national team colours come to mind.

A lot of my peers zoned out during coach Zulu’s talk, but all I could think about was how cool it would be to leave a legacy there. Considering I had not played the sport before, I knew it would take a lot of work to make my hoop dreams come true.

I started with the under-14 D side and only made an A-side when I got to the 10th grade. There was no time to rest on my laurels, I worked out almost every single day. If you were looking for me, the best place to start was the basketball court. Eventually, the work I put in paid off when I made the KwaZulu-Natal team that won the SA Schools championship in 2013 and 2014.

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Manelisi Mthiyane in action during the 2018 USSA basketball tournament at Wits. Pictures: THE BTO

Going forward, I knew that hard work and perseverance would serve me well on and off the court.

Earlier in my matric year, I received a letter from the University of Pretoria that my provisional application to study there had been rejected. Rather than sit in disappointment, I worked harder, improved my results and later was accepted at Tuks for a Bcom Financial Science degree.

My basketball career at Tuks did not start the way I had planned. I was disappointed to start in the second team but kept at it and before the year ended I laced-up for the first team. My time at Tuks also had its speed humps, including getting injured in my second year, which prevented me from competing in many competitions, and facing financial exclusion.

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Manelisi Mthiyane in action for the Mpumalanga Rhinos

The one thing that remained constant throughout the hurdles was the work I put into my books and on the court. The work I put into the game never went unnoticed. I represented my city at the SALGA games for three years in a row and won gold all 3 times. This earned me a basketball bursary, which helped fund the last few years of my degree. I am grateful to the Tuks Basketball organization for the faith they put in me.

Over the years I gave the team and the club everything I had, and have no regrets.

I was fortunate enough to play alongside great players who represented the country. These men became mentors and eventually good friends. I had the opportunity to play for some of the best coaches in South Africa, including Danny Mokwena, Neo Mothiba and George Makena. These men made me a better student of the game and left life lessons that I will carry for the rest of my life.

I don’t know where the game will take me next. However, as I reflect basketball helped me continue my studies and graduate. I experienced playing professionally. And, I have met some amazing people along the way.

I recently got a job, and plan to apply the same work ethic I used in basketball to both my job and business (in the future).

Age is on my side and there are a bunch of things I want to accomplish on the court. Right now, I am grateful to God, my family and basketball for getting me where I am today.

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Tuks out to rise from the ashes ahead of Varsity Basketball

UNIVERSITY of Pretoria’s basketball team will begin their Varsity Basketball tournament campaign on Friday at Wits University knowing that their image has recently taken a battering. It follows the posting of messages in the social media space accusing some players, who were at some point involved with the university’s basketball team, of sexually violating women.

Accusations of this nature can be a destabilising factor within a sports team and Tuks are no different. The accusations, which appeared in the form of direct messages were posted on 3 September on Facebook basketball group Let’s Talk SA Basketball.

While the alleged incidents happened before his tenure, Tuks coach George Makena had concerns about the allegations made.

“I haven’t made any statement regarding that. If you look at some of the allegations, you start to question them. I am not trying to defend anyone. I was not there and I was not part of the team when all these things happened,” said Makena during his team’s scrimmage at the university’s Rembrandt Hall on Thursday night.

Makena, a seasoned basketball coach, pointed out that there is legal recourse for the women who made the accusations against their alleged abusers.

“Go to the nearest police station. Lay a criminal charge, so that these perpetrators can be brought to book. But it hasn’t happened so that’s why we worry that the allegations could be unfounded,” said the former Tshwane Suns coach, who believes the team is more unified.

“It actually divided the team, but we have strong leadership. We are taking care of the things we can control and what we cannot control, we leave in the hands of the almighty,” said Makena a two-time Basketball National League champion with Tshwane Suns.

WISE HEAD: Tuks team coach George Makena. Picture: The BTO.


Tuks assistant coach Thanda Kweyama believes the situation demoralised the team and while there is no certainty on the time frame of the alleged incidents, he intimated that, as adults, the players have a responsibility towards themselves.

“I think it killed the morale of the team. I have been with them for three years and I wasn’t aware of these things. This is on the players who were part of system previously. So, obviously by saying the Tuks basketball team you are obviously associating it with the current team. Some of these players are second year students and were not aware that these things are happening. They could have happened three years ago or even four years ago. However, it affected the team morale-wise and there was a reduced attendance at practices.

“Also, people have to be accountable for their own actions. As a coach, when you ask players and they don’t give you an answer, you don’t have much to work with. The institution will protect its own image and where players are wrong, they should be dealt with,” said Kweyama

“The most important thing they need to understand is that, they are young men. They are no longer kids in high school. There is a cause and effect for everything. So, how you drink and what you do always comes back to haunt you. So, make the best decision knowing that you wouldn’t want to be in that position. You must always take cognisance. When you always try to impress people, it might comeback to bite you. Which is what happened to a lot of these kids.”

On the playing front, Tuks take on a team that has beaten them three times this season, Vaal University of Technology (VUT), and the men from Pretoria have some injury worries to key players Ludwig Gerdes, Louis Motaung and Emmanuel Shine. Makena believes despite the challenges they face they are up for test posed by Vaal-based team.

UNITED: The Tuks team will need to put the past behind them and focus on game against VUT.

“We are battling with injuries some players are not available, but the other players are ready to play. We played them three times this season and we lost all three games. Some things will have to come to an end, and we hoping we will do better this time around. What I have noticed is that they will be missing some key players as well. So, it will be an added advantage to do better,” said Makena.

While they are measured in their expectation in this year’s tournament, Kweyama believes the team has grown. He has also noted areas where they need to improve their game.

“I think it’s going to be a grind. Ask me after every game, ‘What do you think?’ And I‘ll tell you after every game what I think,” responded Kweyama. “I think we have grown from where we were at the beginning of the year. In the GUBL, we are bringing down leads. Twwenty-point deficits have now been reduced to single digits and it’s against Wits, UJ and VUT. We are going pretty much with the same team as last year’s.

“What will be critical is our third quarter. We compete well in the first two quarters and the fourth. But we tend to have lapses in concentration in the third. Minimize our mistakes and convert where it counts the most, which is at the free throw line.”

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