13 January 2011
KENYA : Basketball saved me
For Anastacia Njeri Mburu, 22, her passion for basketball has opened more doors than she ever imagined, writes Shirley Genga
When did you start playing basketball?
I discovered basketball through my church when I was eleven and, although I was not good at it at first, everyone encouraged me to try it because of my height. I trained almost everyday, focusing on shooting and dribbling. At St Teresa Girls’ High School, I joined the basketball team and during the holidays, I played for the Kenya Christian Training Institute (KCITI) team.
When did you start playing professionally?
After clearing high school in 2005, I continued to play for KCITI while doing Computer Engineering at the same institution. In 2007, the team was disbanded and I joined Mennonites where we were number two in the National Division Two League. In 2008, I moved to the Eagle Wings Team. Moving from KCITI to Mennonites was easy because I had moved with some of my old team-mates and I was still playing the position of post player.
However, everything changed when I joined Eagle Wings. There were bigger post players than me and the postposition was all about mass, so the coach forced me to play the position of a shooting guard.
A post player’s function is basically rebounding, controlling defence and blocking while a shooting guard’s primary role is to score.
It was very hard for me to readjust. I cried often as I practiced for the new position.
In 2009, I was called upon to play for the Africa Zone Five National Team qualifiers in Rwanda. It was a wonderful experience and we were number two in the tournament.
Last year, my club Eagle Wings was at Zone Five Club championships in Burundi and I was awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Because of your performance during the championship, you got a scholarship. Tell us about it.
I got a basketball scholarship at the Ugandan Christian University. The full scholarship did not only allow me to play, but also paid for my degree in Information Technology. I have been in Uganda since September last year and only came back last month.
What is it like playing in Uganda?
Anastacia Njeri Mburu
Their basketball league is more organised, transparent, has better leaders and most importantly, has the government’s support. In Uganda, basketball has high standards of professionalism and players earn a good living unlike in Kenya where one has to work during the day and play in the evening to survive.
How was it adjusting to a new team?
They had seen how I played in Rwanda during the Zone Five Club championships and they were a little scared of me (laughs), but they were nice and welcoming. It was fun playing there and my university won the National Ugandan University League last year.
So when are you going back to Uganda?
I will not go back to Uganda, as a new door has opened. I have received a full basketball scholarship to study at Jacksonville University in Texas, which has one of the best female basketball teams in the US. My scholarship covers everything including accommodation and my degree in Information Technology, which I intend to compete.
Did you always know you would be a professional basketball player?
No. When I was young, I loved mathematics and I wanted to be a pilot. I also thought of being a model because I was tall and skinny and people told me my height was perfect for modelling. However, when I discovered basketball, I was passionate about it and started dreaming of playing for the national team.
What type of a childhood did you have?
I grew up in Mathare and I’m the lastborn in a family of three. We were brought up by our father, as our mother left when I was six. Our father was everything to us and the three of us are still very close to him.
Can you say basketball saved you?
Given my humble background and environment, many of my age mates were caught up in wrong things and didn’t achieve much. I can say with confidence that basketball saved me. It kept me busy during high school holidays and out of mischief. It has also opened many doors for me. I look back and marvel at how far I have come because of basketball.
How many awards have you won so far and what do they mean to you?
I have won many awards, but the most notable are: Most Valuable Player in 2010, Top Scorer 2009, Best Forward 2008 and Best Shooter 2008. These awards are a confirmation that my hard work is bearing fruit.
What was the lowest point in your career?
When I accompanied the national team to participate in the Zone Five qualifiers for the African championship in 2009 and sat on the bench throughout the whole tournament. The coach did not let me play and it was so demoralising. I felt sorry for myself, but promised to work harder. My efforts paid off last year when my club worn the Zone Five Club championship in Burundi and I won the MVP award.
What does your father think of basketball?
He is my biggest fan and he is very supportive because he has seen the opportunities basketball has opened for me. He, however, emphasises the importance of education and encourages me to continue with my studies.
Apart from basketball, you also model. Tell us about that.
With the advantage of my height, I decided to give modelling a try last year and I loved it. I modelled for a sports fashion show and fashion for peace. I love attention and I’m confident, so modelling was not hard. I intend to continue doing it when I get the opportunity.
What can you tell young people aspiring to play professional basketball?
To work hard because nothing good comes easy and also to remember that education is the most important thing to have. I love basketball, but I’m a good student. I work very hard at school and do not leave anything to chance. In case of an injury or any other thing, basketball can end, but I will never lose the knowledge I have acquired.
I would like to finish my degree and to play for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in the US — the best female basketball league in the world.