Makoni finds solace on the basketball court

VUT’s success has come at a price

AT 24 years old, Emma Makoni is one of the most decorated players in South African basketball, a player who has achieved team and individual success, but for her, the basketball court is a space that gives her peace of mind.

The Zimbabwean international player has enjoyed success at the Basketball National League (BNL) and University Sport South Africa (USSA) levels.

Makoni, a guard/forward, is a student at one of South Africa’s revered basketball programs, the Vaal University of Technology (VUT). Since 2018, Makoni has been a part of a VUT women’s team dynasty that has captured four USSA titles.

Emma Makoni
Emma Makoni is one of the VUT team leaders. Pictures: The BTO

The championship runs have enhanced VUT’s reputation, but Makoni, who spoke to The Big Tip Off on Monday, says there have been detractors as well.

“Honestly, it has been amazing, but the success has a price. Not everybody is going to show you love. Even though we won last year, some people were not happy. I remember people roasting us on social media. They complained that we have been winning for too long and that it is time to give others a chance,” said Makoni, who holds a post graduate degree in Cost and Management Accounting.

The feats of the Vaal women’s team have been extraordinary, but they have, as Makoni explained, taken a physical and emotional toll. As a student-athlete on a scholarship, she has had to make sure that she keeps up with her academic and sporting obligations.

“It has been challenging. There would be times when I would go to my room and cry because I felt overwhelmed,” said Makoni. “I remember during my first year at VUT. We played in many leagues and tournaments.

“So, you have to find time to study during the week and weekends. It was quite overwhelming, but I managed to strike the right balance.”

Emma Makoni
Emma Makoni is undecided about her participation in the Zone VI qualifiers.

The 5ft10 player felt team unity was key to their success: “It’s about our togetherness as a team. Most of us stay in the same accommodation and spend time together. Vaal is a small town, so you see the same faces.

“So, the chemistry that we have built makes things easy on the court.”

Makoni’s success with VUT has also seen her become a back-to-back (2021 and 2022) USSA MVP. Looking back at her accolades, Makoni says when she won her first title, she was at peak form, but things were slightly tough last year.

“In 2021, I had things figured out. I was working out and fit, so it was easy on the court. I checked the games of that time, I scored twenty three points per game and I led in assists and steals,” said Makoni. “Last year was challenging. I had other responsibilities, but my coach pushed me and reminded I did not have to do eveything on the court alone. He wanted me to lead the team, so thing worked out well.”

Makoni’s achievements did not stop at the varsity level. In between winning the USSA championships, she would, for two years running, win WBNL titles with the Egoli Magic (2020) and Tshwane Suns (2021). In 2020, the inaugural season of the women’s league saw Makoni walk away with the MVP title.

The road to those WBNL titles presented contrasting fortunes for Makoni.

“Winning with Egoli Magic was easy because I played some of my Vaal teammates, and there were some alumni too. Also, having coach Zanele (Ngwenya) on the sidelines made things easy because he is always there to motivate players,” said Makoni, the only player to have won back-to-back WBNL titles. “When I switched teams, it was tough because we had to play Egoli Magic in the semi-finals. That week, I had terrible anxiety because I felt like I had betrayed Egoli.

“There were some issues because of the move I made. So the Suns winning that game was a relief because it would have had it rough at school.”


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Makoni’s trophy-laden spell in South Africa has led to a national team call-up ahead of the Zone VI AfroBasket qualifiers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (20-28 February).

Basketball may be challenging and have its pressures, but Makoni keeps coming back. Why?

“Sanity. When I am having a bad day, going to the court and holding that ball keeps me sane,” concluded Makoni.



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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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Matsie revels in the TUT challenge

TUT are the new sherrifs in town

THE change from being a player to a coach was not easy to accept for Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) Tshepo Matsie, especially as he was still enjoying going toe-to-toe against his peers on the court.

Matsie, who is in his third year of coaching the TUT men’s basketball first team, says part of him still feels like having a run on the court, but his role as coach has given him a different outlook.

“To be honest, I still feel like suiting up and playing. But I had to look at coaching from a coach’s perspective and not that of a player. I have to let the guys play and help them where they need assistance. I will not lie, it was challenging at first, because I really wanted to play, but I reminded myself that I am now wearing different shoes,” said 36-year-old Matsie, last Thursday during his team practice at the Tshwane University of Technology.

Tshepo Matsie
TUT coach Tshepo Matsie has enjoyed passing knowledge to his players. Pictures: The Big Tip Off

The former Vaal University of Technology (VUT) student and player accepted the coaching role at TUT, knowing that the institution’s basketball program was not the strongest. But he has enjoyed the task of transforming it.

“I was looking for a challenge and a program that was not recognised. I got a call from Dumisani (Chauke), who I know very well. She asked me if I could coach the team despite me not having had coaching experience before,” said the former national team player. Matsie says he made up for his lack of experience by turning to the lessons passed on to him by former mentors, who taught him the finer points of the game.

“I knew with the fundamentals I received from coach Florsh (Ngwenya), coach (George) Makena and coach Andile (Hlophe), I could take on this job and teach the guys the same principles I learnt when I was coming up as a player,” said the former Tshwane Suns player.

The knowledge that Matsie is now passing to the current crop of TUT players has yielded positive results. In his second season in charge of the capital city-based institution, the Mamelodi-born coach led the TUT to a semi-final finish in last year’s University Sports South Africa (USSA) tournament.

Reflecting on that run to the final four of the USSAs, Matsie felt the tournament brought good fortune and bad luck as well.

“We had a score to settle against UKZN (University of KwaZulu-Natal), and we wanted to face them in the quarter-finals. Losing our first group game against Wits worked in our favour. We won our next group games and got the match-up we wanted in the knockout stages.

“When we met UKZN, we beat them, but then we met Wits in the semis, and we lost. In a different time and space, we could have won, but we lost a key player to injury… these things happen. We have learnt from it and moved on.”

Matsie, a two-time BNL champion with the Suns and a three-time USSA title winner, wants his team to return to the semi-final of the USSA’s in December at the University of the Witwatersrand.

He feels that some of his career success can rub off on the players and says that the current crop of TUT players are in a better position to thrive.

“I think these guys are doing much better than we did when I was a student-athlete. The reason being we had a lot of great players. So I am in a position to share my knowledge and experience on how to win and I can also see in their attitudes that they also want to be successful,” said Matsie. “They are curious and are always asking questions like ‘how do we become champions’, what do I do in this playing scenario’ and ‘can I come after practice to work on my skills’?

“We did not have that when I was at VUT. So, to see these guys do that makes me believe that we will improve on last year’s performance.”


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TUT head to the USSA tournament with bounce in their step after beating cross-town rival the University of Pretoria (Tuks) in the final of the Tshwane District League, two weeks ago. Matsie says his team, who are 6-0 against Tuks this year, are in a good place. The TUT coach intimated that his team is now the one that sits on the basketball throne in Pretoria.

“It was a huge moral booster (beating Tuks). The guys are thinking of winning every game from this point,” said Matsie. He also reflected on the three victories, achieved on the homecourt of their arch-enemies.

“There is a new sheriff in town. TUT rules Pretoria. We wanted to show everybody that the days when Tuks used to get the better of TUT are a thing of the past. TUT rules Pretoria and we are one of the top five teams in the country,” concluded Matsie.

Matsie’s has brought a renaissance to the TUT men’s program and the confidence he has in his team is warranted. With the USSA tournament around the corner, TUT will definitely be one of the teams to keep an eye out for and after exceeding expectations last year, the sky can only be the limit for them.


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Toboti aims to make Tuks a force in SA basketball

Tuks determined to make it to a second USSA final

IN a results orientated profession like sports, the focus remains on always winning, meaning matters like development and the wellbeing of players sometimes become secondary. 

The University of Pretoria’s (Tuks) first-team ladies’ basketball coach Kimathi Toboti shares a different perspective. For him, player development and wellbeing are a primary concern and focus. They rank high in Toboti’s priorities as a coach and far outrank any piece of silverware he could win.

“One of the reasons I enjoy coaching at this level is seeing a kid come to an institution and leave a better person. The wins are nice and to see players make it to the national team or become all-stars are good achievements. But more fulfilling is seeing players who could not dribble with their left hand or did not understand help defence become better players,” said Toboti at the University of Pretoria’s Rembrandt Hall, last Thursday.

Toboti, who was speaking after his team practice, wants players under his tutelage to use the opportunity they have to study as way of changing their own circumstances as well. 

“What I want to see is players grow. I want to see players from poor backgrounds arrive here and do courses they like. We must  encourage them to pass,” said Toboti, a former South African women’s national team coach. “I don’t want players to stay here for seven years and leave with a four-year degree. Players must come in, get their degrees and work on changing their own lives and those of their families.

“I don’t want a situation where we hold on to players because we want to win. I want to make sure we grow players. That is my vision.”

Kimathi Toboti
Tuks coach Kimathi Toboti talks strategy during the GUBL tournament. Pictures: The Big Tip Off

While Toboti, who took on the Tuks coaching reins in September 2020, desires for players to better themselves, he also plans on building a basketball program to be reckoned with in the country.

“I want Tuks to be a powerhouse in South African basketball, and that begins with having games. We want to be able to host games and have supporters come and watch us play,” said Toboti. I think that is the first thing. We want to grow basketball in the institution so that we can be a high-performance code. It can only happen when there are spectators at this (Rembrandt Hall) venue and us playing in competitive matches.

“I know people are talking about us, but we are not where we need to be as a program. We won a couple of tournaments last year and made it to a couple of finals this year, but we are not among the top teams in the country. We want to be there, but work needs to be done.”

Toboti, who works in the information technology sector, is no stranger to rebuilding the basketball programs of universities. During his seven-year stay at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, he revitalised that program and alongside Masibulele Ntalie raised the profile of the University of Stellenbosch’s program. So the Tuks ladies program is in good hands and Toboti has enjoyed his time thus far. 

“It’s been nice. The one thing here is there has been no pressure as the team was not winning anything. So, it’s a good thing when you come into a setup where you can build from the beginning. There have been different challenges, but I have enjoyed it,” said the former Stellenbosch University coach.


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His tenure with Tuks began on the right note, as he led them to the final of the University Sport South Africa (USSA) tournament last year at the Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha.

The success of last year has increased his team’s appetite for success and Toboti is plotting another return to the final at this year’s USSA tournament, which will see the University of the Witwatersrand play host to the country’s tertiary institutions next month.

“Maybe making the finals in the first year was not a good thing. We have set the bar high, but that is where we see ourselves. The road to the final this year will be tough,” said Toboti. “We might have to face VUT (Vaal University of Technology). They are likely to stand in our way if we get to the last four. If you go to the other side, it is equally difficult, as Wits and UWC (University of the Western Cape) are there, and these are tough match ups.”

Kimathi Toboti
Kimathi Toboti gives the referee an earful during the GUBL tournament.

If last month’s results in the Gauteng University Basketball League (GUBL) tournament are anything to go by, Tuks, who only won two out of their five games will have to work extra hard to rectify their mistakes ahead of the USSA tournament.

“Right now, players are writing exams, and we have a couple of injuries. We started slowly, but we will pick up in the coming days,” said the former Central University of Technology (CUT) coach.

The one area of concern during the GUBL tournament for Tuks, was defence, and during his practice last Thursday, Toboti placed a huge emphasis on that aspect.  

“Defence is one of our strengths. When we needed to pick up our intensity on defence at the GUBL, it unfortunately did not happen for us. It’s what we have been paying attention to in our training,” said Toboti.

Toboti, who is still fine tuning his team has been impressed by the attitude displayed by his players ahead of the USSA tournament. He feels if his players can hold their own end of the deal, they can achieve the desired outcomes.

“If you look at this year’s team, we have six rookies. Four players who made last year’s national team are not here. Of course we want to win. However, we have to be realistic because this year’s and last year team’s are different,” said Toboti. “What I do like about this group is that they want to win. I am not putting pressure on them. All I want is improvement, so it’s about them putting in effort and getting to that goal.”

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