We all know and see how the sport of basketball is becoming recognised in South Africa. By recognised, I mean there is awareness being created around the sport for the greater public; from random photoshoots to advertisement campaigns being run on television. These factors all feed into the growth of the sport, producing a platform from which it can propel.
However, there is a reality we all need to face, which is that it still comes second to sports such as soccer, rugby and cricket. These sports have been the main sports in South Africa for years and have had a structures put in place for development with a bottom-up approach. For instance, primary schools in South Africa always excelled in one of these three sports, if not all. I have come across countless schools with cricket pitches on their soccer fields; or rugby poles with two crossbars of which one was used as a soccer goalpost. But recently, the odd basketball court tends to appear on primary school grounds. This shows that the sport is no longer just being accepted at high school level. There is recognition of a need to develop youngsters in the sport from their foundation phase years.
Personally, I started playing basketball at 13 years old. Generally speaking, at that age I was already too old to be only starting to play the sport. I had a friend, Lonnie Barnes, who taught me the game in his backyard and also introduced me to the first basketball PC game – NBA Live 08.
We then played basketball together in high school, at Westerford High School, which was where I was first exposed to a structured game. Lonnie’s older brother, Lewis Barnes, furthered my skill and knowledge of the game. I fell in love with the sport and never let it go. Sadly, I was forced to leave Westerford High School and finish off my high school years at Pretoria Boys High School. It was a blessing in disguise, because there I met and played with and against players of a higher calibre than I was accustomed. I was exposed to a very different basketball culture, which added an incredible amount of value to my level of basketball.
Since then, I moulded my life around the game. I knew that I was going to take the sport further in whatever opportunity I was given.
After matriculating from PBHS, I decided to take a gap year and just coach and play basketball. I coached the U14A team at PBHS in 2012 and played for the Tuks second team. My life was basketball, I knew nothing else. Playing for the Tuks second team, I was introduced to university basketball. I watched the teams in the first division battle it out for the regional USSA championship, not knowing there was an even bigger one to fight for. It was then time for me to expand my exposure to the game when I left Gauteng and returned to where it all started, Cape Town.
Finishing off my high school at Pretoria Boys High School was a blessing in disguise
My university experience
Studying at UCT changed the dynamic for me a little bit. I had to be reminded countless times that I am here to study and get a degree, but my mind was also focused on basketball. In the orientation, the vice-chancellor strongly suggested that all first years should not participate in sports for the first 6 months, just so they can see if they can cope with their studies before committing themselves to sports. I already knew I was not going to wait 6 months before enrolling in basketball. I had had a year of immersing myself in the game and I reckoned I had enough discipline to handle both my academics and my sporting commitments. I figured, since I had no problem handling high school and basketball, why would it be a problem now in university?
I was fully aware that UCT was an institute that prided itself in its academic output. In terms of sports, they were not the most well-known. They had a few good years for rugby, but that was all I knew. Basketball was and still is a marginalised sport.
As a student at UCT, you are not recognised as a student athlete by the institute or by its staff unless you obtain provincial colours, student national colours or senior national colours. I was fortunate to note this early in my university life, as some UCT staff assisted me with my academics when going on tour by granting me extensions when they could.
As my years in university went by, the workload became greater, but so did my involvement in basketball. I found myself missing classes because of provincial tournaments and student national tournaments. There was even a time where I had to do my readings on a bus trip to Johannesburg, then write and submit an essay as soon as I arrived. I soon understood that for as long as I am involved in basketball in my university career, this would be my life. Carrying school material was no different to me carrying a basketball. It was at that point that I realised the meaning of a student athlete.
Having a fixed routine helps immensely with time management.
Being a student athlete is not as easy as most make it seem to be. The first hurdle that one has to conquer is actually identifying themselves as a student athlete. By achieving this step, you have already separated yourself from other students. You are a student that is working on two careers, your degree and your sport. It is important to make this distinction, it has certainly helped me. For starters, it means you are not a normal student, so you cannot really do what all the other students do. I am not saying that you cannot have ‘fun’; I am just saying that your time to have ‘fun’ is in fact much less than others’. It is made less simply because most of your time as a student athlete should go towards your books. If you are not studying, then you are in the gym making yourself a better athlete, or at your designated practice.
Once you have identified yourself as a student athlete, you then have to find a balance. This is by far the most difficult part. You have to realise that your time is precious because in all honesty, you do not have much of it. Again, no one tells you this. You have to figure it all out on your own. What I tend to think about first is my academic standing. Have I completed my readings? Have I prepared adequately for lectures? Are my tutorials for the week completed? Do I have any tests to study for? If all is in order academically, only then do I think about picking up my basketball. It is also very helpful to have your academic and sporting timetable merged in one document.
Of course, distractions happen. For example, your friends may come barging into your room at any given moment and change your plans. It is at this point that you have to learn to say ‘no’ otherwise you will get to a point where you start thinking about all the times you should have said ‘no’. It might be too late to change anything by then. My friends know that during the week, I do not have time. We actually do not have time to see each other because we are all working on advancing ourselves. We are only available on weekends, and even then, only when they are not busy working on their careers and when I am not busy working on mine. We have come to a point in our lives where we recognise that the nightlife is no longer that important. It is great fun for the first two to 3 years in university but then it just stops being important. Instead, it is replaced by the amount of time you have with people you hold closest to your heart. A visit from friends on weekends where you all just catch up and share laughs becomes everything. Now and then the odd clubbing experience is amazing, but only when the essentials have been handled.
I see my life as a student athlete in three different spheres – student, athlete, social. In most cases, I focus mainly on the first two because they build me as a person. Being a socialite has never really been important to me. I have always been very comfortable being alone and in my own space. On most days, I am at school from 8am until 3pm. Between those times; I am a full-time student, engaging in everything that has to do with my academic career. Though my parents have blessed me with a car, I choose to walk to school every morning as exercise. It takes me about 15mins to get to class. Once I am out of class at 3pm, I head home to have lunch, and then head straight to the gym from 4pm to 6pm. After gym I come home to cook supper and prepare for the next day’s lectures. I then head to basketball practice from 8pm to 10pm and arrive back home around 10:30pm to continue with my schoolwork. By midnight and sometimes around 1am, I head to bed. This routine is just a foundation and can always be shaped suit my day. I try not to compromise on anything, but there are times where I am forced to do so. But having a fixed routine helps immensely with time management.
I am currently in my 5th year at UCT studying towards my second degree – LLB Law
As the years have gone by, it has become easier to grapple with the concept of being a student athlete. I have watched and learned from those that have walked this path and realised that it can be done. Time management is at the core of everything. I have learned to not involve myself in things that do not advance me; I have become rooted in my routine and discipline myself every day. It is not easy, no one ever said it would be, but my passion for my studies and my passion for basketball drives me. There is no way I could be where I am today without support from God, family and friends. After all, my family and friends have contributed to the man that I have become.
I am currently in my 5th year at UCT studying towards my second degree – LLB Law. I obtained my first degree in a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Media and Writing. I continue to play basketball for UCT as well as the Western Cape Mountaineers, a professional team based in Cape Town that competes in South Africa’s national basketball league, the Basketball National League (BNL).