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‘Basketball saved my life’

by Sunday Express
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Moorosi Tsiane

Award-winning coach, Bokang Sehlabaka, says basketball saved his life when he was going through a rough patch in 2008.

Sehlabaka (29) won six accolades during the 2015 Lesotho Basketball Association awards ceremony held at Victoria Hotel a fortnight ago.

The Methodist High School and Lichocha Shooting Rifles tactician was crowned High School Basketball League coach-of-the-season in both the boys and girls category and scooped the same award for the National Basketball League, female category.

Bongo, as Sehlabaka is affectionately known by his peers, told the Sunday Express how basketball kept him alive when he was contemplating suicide.

“I have come a long way with basketball; it is my life, if I must say. I remember when I was going through a tough time in 2008, I nearly committed but basketball kept me alive.

“Basketball was the only thing that kept me pushing and here I am, alive and kicking. In other words, basketball saved me and I wouldn’t be alive today if it was not for this sport, which kept me occupied and showed me the brighter side of life,” Sehlabaka said.

According to Sehlabaka, he first fell in love with basketball in 1998 when the game was introduced to his neighborhood.

“When basketball was introduced to my home area of Mohalalitoe in 1998, the people playing the game were using a makeshift hoop and pole, and would have their games near to our family home. That’s when I first started following it, with the love growing as the years went by,” he said.

Sehlabaka noted like many Basotho children, he also tried playing football and cricket but later quit after realising he was good in neither.

“You know, almost every Mosotho plays football as a child, and I was no exception. I even went further to try cricket but things couldn’t work out for me so I eventually lost interest in both.”

However, Sehlabaka decided to play basketball seriously when he enrolled for secondary education.

“At first, I was only playing the sport because my friends also happened to be interested, but my passion grew when I arrived at Methodist High School in 1999. At the time, basketball was the most popular sport at the school. In fact, if I remember correctly, it was the only sport played at the school at the time.

“I joined the Junior Certificate (JC) team and graduated to the first team when I was in Form D, and loved the game so much I wanted to go all the way and be a star in my own right.”

However, after enrolling at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in 2004, things took a different turn for the youngster.

“When I arrived at NUL, things changed. I struggled to get game-time; it was really difficult for freshmen to break into the first team and we only got to play when the seniors were not around.

“I couldn’t stand this especially because I had been a regular first-team player at high school. That was when I decided to quit playing and go into management.”

Two years later, Sehlabaka was elected Lesotho Basketball Association Director of Officiating and held the position until 2010. However, he had also started coaching Methodist High School teams in 2009. He remains the school’s coach to this day, and also coached NUL Rovers.

Last year, Sehlabaka decided to form his own club called Shooting Rifles, which has both male and female teams.

Sehlabaka says he dreams of becoming an international referee one day, in addition to making Shooting Rifles a force to reckon with both locally and internationally.

“We all dream in life but our dreams differ due to what we want to achieve in life. As for me, my dream has always been to become an international basketball referee and I must tell you I am so close to achieving that dream. It might happen this year if things go my way; that is how close I am to achieving that dream.”

Sehlabaka also says he would want to see Lesotho competing internationally and winning trophies.

“We have already launched some programmes towards achieving this dream and the target is that by 2020 when Lesotho hosts the Africa Union Sports Council Games, we would have a team capable of doing the country proud.

“If we can be the first group to win this country a medal in basketball, then I will retire a proud man.”

Yet Sehlabaka lamented lack of sponsorship and infrastructure, which said hampered the development of the sport.

“Looking back to where we are coming from, I think basketball has made steady progress in Lesotho. I mean, when I started playing, we had many sponsors but because of maladministration, they decided to cut ties with the sport. But we now have very passionate people running our association; they are doing all they can to see the sport getting back to where it used to be in the mid-90s.

“The other challenge is lack of facilities that meet international standards. This is slowing down the game’s development and hopefully, we will soon have enough infrastructure to make basketball one of the biggest sporting codes in Lesotho.”

Fact File

Name: Bokang Sehlabaka

Nickname: Bongo

Date of birth: 12 May 1986

Place of birth: Mohalalitoe, Maseru

Team: Shooting Rifles (president, coach)

Dream car: Audi TT

Favorite meal: Roasted potatoes and braaied meat

Favourite music: Hip-hop

Role model: Matšeliso Ntati Sehlabaka (his sister)

Marital Status: Single

 

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