UFH basketball captain inspires a new generation of players
Once University of Fort Hare’s Asemahle Mani had plucked up the courage to try her hand at basketball, falling in love with the sport was as easy as one of her slam dunks. The somewhat shy 22-year-old from Butterworth in the Eastern Cape went from being a wide-eyed spectator to a formidable player to captain the women’s team in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
“I often went to watch basketball games but was never really sure if I would be able to play the game,” the bachelor of social work student remembered.
“In my first year, I would go to tournaments as a supporter and often thought about joining the club, but I never actually did.”
Eventually, in 2021, a friend of hers posted to social media that he was at a Fort Hare practice session and after a brief this and that way, he convinced her to join.
“I thought I would see how it went,” was her pragmatic approach.
She immediately “connected” with the sport and even though she was still finding her way around the court, she felt at home in the Fort Hare basketball set-up.
“I remember playing my first game a week after joining the club and I didn’t know the rules and how to even bounce the ball properly. I just stood there and passed the ball to my teammates whenever it came my way.”
She quickly graduated from being a mere ball handler to a force to be reckoned with as she adapted to the demands of the game. The cherry on top in her rookie year was qualifying for the University Sports South Africa (USSA) tournament.
As a forward, she constantly tinkers with her approach to attacking play.
“I feel I’m good in defence, but I‘m working hard to improve my offence and to capitalise properly when there is a fast break. Also, I focus on controlling my emotions so that I’m able to deal better with the anxiety created by the pressure during games.”
Netting her first goal at the USSA event is “one of my great memories”, as is scoring six points in a league match last year.
“That came after I had been in Makhanda for academic purposes for the first semester and I hadn’t been practising much with the team.”
Fort Hare competes in the ultra-competitive provincial students’ league and the team, under her leadership, is working hard to improve their standard.
“Some of them are very strong,” Mani explained. “A lot of our players don’t have basketball backgrounds, so we have to put in many hours of practice to try to match those teams.”
As the captain, she leads from the front in all aspects.
“I try to set the standards for the team by playing to the rules and instilling sportsmanship and discipline.”
She praised coach Thembekile Blaai for his guidance throughout her fledgling career.
“He has been pushing us since the first day because, at one point, more than half of us hadn’t played before. He has worked really hard to get us to where we are today.”