Hard work pays off for Gugs basketballer

Cape Town Tigers assistant coach Vincent Luyanda Ntunja, from Gugulethu, has been selected to join Minnesota Timberwolves for the NBA Summer League – Africa Coaches Programme.

This programme is aimed at building capacity, improving the quality of the on-court product, and contributing to the continuous growth of the game of basketball on the African continent..

On the ball…Basketball and social entrepreneur Vincent Ntunja, from Gugulethu, has been selected to join Minnesota Timberwolves for the NBA Summer League. Picture: Fuad Esack

Ntunja, who was once hand-picked by Michael Jordan as the MVP (most valuable player) at one of his basketball camps, turned down the chance to study in the USA to stay home in Cape Town and take care of his sick mother. He has had an illustrious and varied career as a professional model, television presenter, motivational speaker and philanthropist based in Cape Town.

Using sport, basketball in particular, as a vehicle for for youth development, has always been close to his heart. A founder-member of African Grassroot Hoops, Ntunja, along with his colleague Giovanni Freeman, will oversee the organisation’s annual Youth Day Classic, which takes place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Youth Day, Friday June 16 and Saturday 17, before he heads off to America at the end of this month.

Ntujna will be joining Minnesota Timberwolves for the NBA Summer League, in the wake of his team’s Basketball Africa League playoff qualification.

Ntunja started playing basketball in the dusty streets of Gugulethu and has represented South Africa from the junior level to the senior national team and has travelled around the world to America, Russia, Mozambique, China, Korea, and Morocco among others. His diversity was showcased when he presented and did voice-overs for a segment on SABC 1’s “Slam Dunk” basketball programme with Siyabonga “Scoop”Ngwekazi and he is a brand representative for various national and international brands.

Over the years he has picked up numerous awards and accolades, including being named the youngest player, at 16, to play in the Professional Basketball League (PBL), selected to represent South Africa at the Basketball World Youth Games in Russia, Moscow, in 1998 and being named the Western Cape Basketball Association’s Player of the Year in 2011.

“Because the sport is not as popular in South Africa like rugby or cricket it’s important to have passion and perseverance because the odds might be against you,” he said.

“I remember as a skinny kid who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a soccer player just like Boyce ‘Chu-boy’ Griffith’s (May your soul rest in peace skhokho sam).

“I think I had the skills, trained and loved the game enough to be just like him. However, at 14, I discovered this game called basketball. My friends and even family members would tease me playing this funny sport that was played by hands because the only sport we knew or was familiar with being played by hands in South Africa was netball.

“Be that as it may, the sport gave me my first provincial and national colours, my first passport, I got to travel for the first time outside the country (Russia) and four days later upon my return I was selected to travel to the USA to meet one of the greatest all time basketball athletes, Michael Jordan,“ he said.

“After my playing days were over, I decided to pursue or rather embark on coaching to share my knowledge with the next generation. The motivation came from acknowledging that I needed to share my little experiences with those who had none to empower them. Within a short space of time in my coaching stint, I got to work with coach Masi, the head coach at Western Cape Mountaineers. Soon after that I got to work with coach Flosh Ngwenya, the national team head coach. I also got an opportunity to work with coach Rasheed Hazzard, two-time NBA champion with LA Lakers,” he said.

“I am also proud that I have been selected among the promising African coaches who will attend an advance coaching programme in America,“ he said.

“There is no substitute for hard work, I believe I was meant to be where I am but I’m always conscious of the hard work it took to get me there,” he said.