High hoops for future leaders

Pro basketball player Vincent Ntunka, who plays for Western Cape Mountaineers, shares some wisdom with youngsters on Youth Day.

Ntunja made his professional debut at the now-defunct Wynberg-based Cape Town Eagles, at the age of 16.

The ball got bouncing at a fast pace for Ntunja as he only started playing the previous year.

In that short space of time, he went from crawling to walking on the basketball.

And, after failing to make the Western Province final squad in his first season, he said he made it his mission to prove his worth the following season – and eventually earned his WP stripes.

“I could have easily been another statistic from my hood in Gugulethu, but, basketball saved my life.

“Whenever my friends decided to do bad things, then I’d easily pick up a ball and go to the courts,” said Ntunja.

“I got to know the sport while watching some people play this funny looking game at the Gugulethu Sport Complex, and I decided to try it out myself. I joined up with Gugulethu Hustlers and today I’m one of the coaches at the club,” he said.

Things took a turn for the better once young Ntunja put on the WP jersey.

“He soon got selected to represent the SA national under-16 team at the world youth games, and turned professional when he returned.

“My first time making the WP team is a funny story because I actually got cut from the 15-man squad in 1997. They only needed 12 players in the team.

“I told myself I needed to work harder so that I could make the team the following year. And, I woke up early every morning and practiced before going to school, and trained again after school.

“Before I knew it, I was also part of the SA team and competed, in Russia. We didn’t do too well at the tournament, but it was a great experience to compete at that level.

“Also, I was spotted at the tournament and was sponsored to attend a two-week training programme hosted by Michael Jordan,” he said.

Ntunja was one of four players to represent Africa at the Jordan training camp in America, and was awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP) out of 500 participants.

He continued to do well on the court and subsequently made the WP and SA squads all the way up to the senior men’s team.

Last year, Ntunja joined the Western Cape Mountaineers professional outfit who compete in the Basketball National League (BNL). The squad is currently in pre-season training as they prepare for the start of the league next month.

Meanwhile, he’s been keeping busy with the various coaching clinics hosted by African Grassroot Hoops, teaching aspiring ballers the fundamentals to the sport.

“I feel that it’s only right that I give back to the basketball community all the skills that I’ve learnt. Playing for SA has given me the opportunity to travel and at Grassroot Hoops we are trying to plant the seed while these kids are young,” said Ntunja.