Vincent Ntunja

Ntunja believes Tigers have a championship DNA

Tigers fine-tuning in key areas for Elite 16 

EXITING the O.R. Tambo international airport, one of the most noticeable features at this national asset is a billboard of the legendary point guard and Cape Town Tigers assistant coach, Vincent Ntunja.

Throughout his playing career, Gugulethu-born Ntunja has also dabbled in modelling and promoting brands. He has appeared on billboards, television advertisements and to top it all off, he is a brand ambassador for sports apparel company, Under Armour. This ability for Ntunja, a former basketball player in South Africa, to be marketable is a sign of the game’s infinite potential for growth. However, ongoing governance issues plaguing the sport in the country make it a far fetched dream for most players.

“We have to start by asking, who is managing the game? Who provides the guidelines for basketball from a business and branding perspective? Those are vital people to have within the administration of the game. Right now, along with other issues, basketball lacks in that department,” said the 40-year-old Ntunja. “Despite what’s happening with the game in the country, it has not stopped me from achieving my goals. Under Armour approached me and it was clear from our discussion, we had mutual interests. They understood my drive, my intention to not only be a basketball player but also to be marketable outside the game.


Second Picture
Cape Town Tigers coach Vincent Ntunja has made the most of his opportunities. Pictures: Big Tip Off

“So, if we fix the governance issues and place people in the right places in terms of administration, there will be a good product in South Africa. The pie is big enough for everybody to get a slice.”

The former national team player says appearing on the billboard that encourages and promotes tourism in the country is part of leaving a legacy.

“It’s massive! To appear on a billboard at OR Tambo is a milestone. Can you imagine how many people pass through the airport daily? Having your face planted there signals something. It’s a message to every child that it is possible.

“As I speak to you right now, I am at a shoot in Fish Hoek, and I am enjoying myself. It’s for a purpose and I don’t take these opportunities for granted. I can feed my family and have the chance to travel. I am grateful.”

On matters related to the basketball court, recently retired Ntunja and the new ‘it’ team in South African basketball, Tigers are riding a wave of success. Two weeks ago, the American-owned club qualified for the Elite 16 qualifiers of the Basketball Africa League. The Tigers left the preliminary qualifying tournament held at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus with a 3-0 record after beating Roche-Bois Warriors (Mauritius), Matero Magic (Zambia) and Ferroviario Da Beira (Mozambique).

Ntunja expressed his joy at the achievement of the Tigers and stressed that a lot went into getting the team where it is.

“We are elated because of what we achieved in a short space of time. We did not take any shortcuts in preparing ourselves and getting the players to be in tune with each other. Remember that these are guys from different backgrounds and attitudes,” said the former Western Cape Mountaineers player. “Certain feelings or emotions can come to the fore. That’s where we come in to help manage the situation. These are professional players. We appreciate their input and why they are here.”

Having taken a step closer to the BAL tournament, the Tigers are contributing to changing the attitude towards basketball in South Africa.


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“We are changing the narrative about basketball in South Africa. We are changing how people in our city and the country see the game,” said Ntunja. As the Tigers prepare for the Elite 16, which tips off December, they will have to double their efforts.

“The team has been working hard to get ready for the Elite 16, because we do have reasonable expectations of ourselves. We will to take on each challenge as it comes. The team is in a good space, and we are not taking anything for granted. We will be back at the beach training and doing our skill sets on the court. We want to improve on our team chemistry and bonding as a unit.”

Going into the Elite 16, one of the areas where the Tigers need to be a cohesive unit is defence and players need to maintain their on court-discipline.  The preliminary qualifiers saw key players, Chris Gabriels and Billy Preston ejected, while team captain Pieter Prinsloo fouled-out.

Ntunja says as a coaching staff, they have communicated with the players about tightening up at the defensive end and learning how to manage themselves in tense situations.

“On the subject of discipline, we have been teaching the players self-mastery. Some of the guys may have been overwhelmed by the stage or even the intensity of African basketball. Those issues need to be addressed and players must understand the task at hand,” said the former Cape Peninsula University of Technology Alumni. “Our defence. We speak about it daily. The rebounding, we must not allow the opposition to get those second-chance looks. That will win us games. We need everybody to be on board at the defensive end.”

In terms of the Tigers play, Ntunja was impressed with the performances of seasoned campaigners Ben Uzoh, Pieter Prinsloo, Evans Ganapamo, and Billy Preston who stepped up for the team in the preliminary leg of the qualifiers. Worth noting as well, was their ability to knock down shots.

“I liked our shooting. It was decent. I must compliment our players ability to step up. Our captain Pieter had a great final game against Beira. Against Matero, Ben and Evans delivered for us, and Billy stepped up,” said Ntunja. “We have always asked the guys to take the lead on the court.  As their coaches, we have given them all the information. It’s up to them to apply it.”

Cape Town Tigers players celebrate winning the National Club Championships

The Tigers have made known their lofty ambitions to qualify for the BAL and their desire to be crowned champions of the prestigious tournament. To make their BAL dream a reality, they will have to contend with competition that harbours similar desires in the Elite 16.

“We will go back to the drawing board to correct some of the issues and improve on our strengths and we want to focus on the areas that allow us to do more than just participate in the tournament. We are going to the tournament to compete to be champions,” said Ntunja. “If you look at our record, we are unbeaten. Since the Tigers project began, we have not lost a game. So it tells you how much this means to us and how badly we want it. It’s been a good experience, and we will let our hard work speak for us.”

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Things might not be the same again

A Cape Town team will dominate SA basketball

IVE been involved with sports for half if not most of my life. My love for basketball has greatly enhanced my knowledge for life and sport. To me sports is a way of life, although, sometimes our way of life does get disrupted, like what COVID-19 has done here in South Africa and around the world.

It’s easy to sit and moan about the state of things, but I would rather learn from the situation, which has allowed me to reflect on many issues, including basketball. I remember on the second week of the lockdown; I had a chance to look at pictures I took at a Michael Jordan camp in the USA. Think about it, a skinny kid from the dusty streets of Gugs shaking hands with a basketball god. That s*** is big.

Basketball has afforded me the opportunity to travel around the world: USA, Russia, Malaysia, Mozambique, China, South Korea, and Morocco just to name a few. I have had the privilege to play in SA national colours with decorated players such as Quintin Denyssen, Joseph Mazibuko, Neo Mothiba, Tsakane Ngobeni, Dr Fumani Marhenele (he is a real doctor by the way), Brendan Mettler, Lindo Sibankulu, Manny Madondo, Sunday Mokoena, Ndaba Ngcobo, Lesego Molebatsi and Lebo Maepa (MHSRIP), just to name a few. We had great fun and created a lot of memories with these guys playing for our country.

Vincent Ntunja made when he was the youngest player to play in the defunct Premier Basketball League at 15-years-old.

In my reflections during the lockdown, I smiled alone remembering that a basketball court is named after me. I have had time to think about my days in the now defunct Premier Basketball League (PBL). Not sure many people know this, but I made history as the youngest player in the league at 15-years-old. I remember playing alongside Siphetho Adonis (MHSRIP) and Alain Robertson for Cape Town Eagles. Every weekend we had tough competition from Johannesburg and Durban. I broke a sweat competing against the likes of Solly Mashiyane, Alaska Kipundu, Merick Palmer, De Bose, Thierry Kita and Craig Gilchrist. I shed a tear remembering all those memories.

My salary then, as a young player was more than that of my friends who were playing for Ajax Cape Town. I think basketball in Mzansi could have gone far by now if it was not for maladministration. I think if we depoliticise basketball administration at all levels, work together rather than in isolation, then our beloved game will regain its spot as the fastest growing sport in South Africa.

That being said, it is truly difficult for us in the basketball community during this lockdown. However, I’m pleading with all the people who haven’t been adhering to the rules to please do so. I think it is also our role as sports people to educate everyone that this virus doesn’t discriminate. I also urge all my basketball people to continue playing their part in ensuring we flatten the even though things might not be the same after this pandemic.

I’m very fortunate to be part of Under Armour’s team sponsored athletes as the brand is running a campaign called #Throughittogether, which requires ambassadors such as myself, Blitzbokke Seven’s captain Siviwe Soyizwapi, SA boxing champion Kevin Lerena and many others to post training routines to motivate our followers to stay healthy and motivated while on lockdown.

As far as basketball future is concerned after the lockdown, well I hope most leagues will resume their duties, tournaments will be played across the country. And finally, remember this day when I told you that a Cape Town team will dominate South African basketball with the aim to participate in the BAL tournament, post-lockdown.


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Vincent Ntunja: More than a basketball player

BEING an athlete means attention is drawn to you and while some in the sports arena bask in that limelight, others use their platform as a vehicle for social activism. Western Cape Mountaineers captain and point guard Vincent Ntunja fulfils the latter criteria.

Ntunja’s basketball career has earned him national team colours. It has led to him meeting arguably, the game’s greatest player, Michael Jordan at his training camp. These are milestones the Gugulethu-born player does not take lightly.

Ntunja, a director of non-profit organisation, African Grassroots Hoops, has used his privileged position to help children with special needs learn how to play basketball; and to highlight the issue of gender-based violence in the country, a problem the Mountaineers captain believes basketball should not be immune from.

“I have played junior national team basketball and participated in two Afrobasket competitions. I have travelled the world and met Michael Jordan. These are things I don’t take for granted. It’s no use bragging about a court being named after me and my other achievements, if I don’t use them to impact my teammates and my community,” said Ntunja after his team’s win over the North West Eagles at the Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg, last Saturday.

“One of my passions is grassroots development. I coach behaviourally challenged kids to play basketball and help them to become leaders. I also coach girls and have discussions with them about what it means to be a female in our country. If you have followed the news, you will have seen the stories about gender-based violence happening in the country. As a basketball community, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to be part of the solution” said Ntunja, who also works as a model and radio host.

Vincent Ntunja in action for the Mountaineers in the BNL. Picture: The BTO

Rather than talk about the critical issues on social media, Ntunja believes it is best to be active in addressing these matters of importance, something he does daily.

The 38-year-old Ntunja stressed that his work is geared towards helping young people avoid the social trappings of life.

“I am not one to write on social media platforms for the likes and comments and then think that I have done something. I am in the office from Monday to Friday, planning and thinking about impact and how to get more involved in schools. We are trying to help develop a new mentality, where we tell kids they don’t have to be gangsters to be successful or stand on the street corners and think that makes them cool. They don’t have to chase Maseratis. Take the long route!” said Ntunja.

The former Cape Peninsula University of Technology student explained his life’s mantra and how he uses it to help young people.

“I always instil the three basic D’s of success: dedication, determination and discipline in the young minds I mentor so one day when I am not here, the legacy continues,” said Ntunja who holds a Masters in Sports Tourism.


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On the court, Ntunja’s team sits second on the log, but their aim is a top four finish in this season’s BNL. With a 5-2 record after their 66-63 victory over the Eagles, the Mountaineers still have some work to do before sealing their spot.

“We do have talent that can lead us to the top four. So far, we are not playing our best basketball, but we are managing to win games. That is a plus for us. Despite the two losses, we have five wins. We are closer to where we want to be,” said Ntunja.

“The captaincy doesn’t start on the court. It starts from Cape Town and how we prepare. Are we arriving on time for flights? Are we sleeping early the night before games? Do we take care of our bodies? Because it will all show on the court. Those are very important things. Drawing from my experience, I believe this is how we best prepare to reach our goal,” concluded Ntunja.

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