By Ariel Okall
Editor: Brenda Mwaniki
The future is bright. We have heard this quote a million times in our lives. To achieve that bright future we must invest in our youth. When it comes to Kenyan basketball, that is still a challenge but there are various institutions and individuals that have put certain measures and programs in place, to ensure that we secure and protect the future of our young ballers. One of such programs is the Far East Basketball Academy. They are located in Kayole, Nairobi, at the DIWOPA church. FEBA is under the supervision of various young enthusiastic coaches who are committed to the development of future athletes. Under the leadership of Shem Otieno Omuta, Moses Musosi and Zedekiah Ong’ang’a, FEBA can become the home of youth basketball in Kenya. They have produced quite a number of outstanding talents, most of these currently overseas in the United States of America on athletic scholarships, and others playing in various leagues in East Africa. One of these young talented stars is sharpshooter Caroline Njeri Nduta, or Cashy as many of her teammates call her. She was born in Malindi and later moved with her family to Nairobi, the city under the sun where the game of basketball runs deep.
Her love for the game is immensely addictive and it grew from watching older players play at the DIWOPA courts in Kayole. This is where Caroline was discovered, spotted by coach Shem Otieno Omuta. She joined the FEBA squad and showed greatness from the start. Her accuracy from the three point line was on sniper level. This earned her a spot on the FEBA program. She joined Buruburu Girls High School in 2014 and later transferred to Tigoi Girls, a school with a rich basketball history. Just like many FEBA-groomed athletes, she was recruited to play for Riara University Scarlets who were playing in the NBA league then. They went ahead and won the NBA championship in 2018 and she bagged the league’s Top Scorer award, the Best Three Point Shooter award and the season MVP award. As young as she is, Caroline Njeri Nduta has already put the country on the map. She was in the Basketball Without Borders under 18 all star winning team in South Africa. In 2019, Caroline was in the 3×3 team that represented Kenya in the All Africa Games in Morocco, she won the 3-point shooting contest. As she spoke to Th3Doctor’s Report, this is what she had to say:
1: Athletes play basketball for various reasons. What do you think pushes you to play basketball and to be at your best ?
The game of basketball has done so much to me. I have no reason not to play. Basketball will help me get to places I want to go. So far, it’s paying for my school. That’s what I’d been praying for. I will continue working hard so I can be a motivation for younger kids playing the game. All these things together is motivation enough. That’s why I play.
2: It’s clear you love basketball. What does this game mean to you?
Basketball is life to me. It represents growth and change. I have been able to stay away from serious trouble because of basketball, through the guidance of my coaches. I have been able to grow as a person ,socially, spiritually and psychologically. It has also opened up doors for me. I’ve had great opportunities, like being able to go through high school and university on a basketball scholarship, playing for the national team and playing outside the country. All these have been made possible because of basketball. It’s simply my life.
3: There are various great players in the Kenyan league, who do you look up to as your role model?
I haven’t interacted with many players out there, but I’m personally working with Anne rose Mandela, the MVP. She has been a great motivation to me and I believe when I get back, as the season resumes I’ll be better than last season. What Ndella does on the floor is inspiring. I love what she displays on court and I look forward to playing more like her, in terms of confidence and leadership.
4: As a beneficiary of basketball scholarships, how important is education to young upcoming athletes and how does it shape you as a basketball player?
Combining education with sports is the best choice I have made in life. Excelling in both has made me stand out at a very young age. As an athlete, sports teaches you so many things that you can incorporate in life and school. You become the better person in the society. Young athletes shouldn’t take school for granted as much as we work to be better in sports; lets also remember, we are students first.
5: From your experiences, as your career begins, what is the biggest lesson this game has taught you?
Basketball has taught me that hard work never goes unrewarded and the best success comes when you work when no one is watching. Keep grinding.
6: You have participated in both Giants of Africa and Basketball without Boarders and you had quite the success. What was your biggest lesson from these experiences?
Giants of Africa showcases some of the best young athletes across Africa. This has motivated a lot. I have been a part of something special. So I train harder to be at my level best. Every time you go out there and interact with people your age you get so motivated.You interact with NBA athletes and coaches and it just lights a fire in you.
7: Winning the three-point contest at the All Africa games in Morocco is a great achievement especially for a young player like yourself. What did that mean to you and what’s next?
Winning the 3-point shoot out was a great achievement and challenges me to work harder and win many more. There will be more competitions like that in the near future, so I have to work at being better than I was then. Being at the top is easy but maintaining that top position is where the hustle comes. I have to work harder.
8: If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
I would wish for more basketball courts and facilities, because that’s what we lack out here. If we get more facilities, there will be growth no matter how slow.
9: What are some of the challenges players from Kayole face, and what do you think should be done to better the game there?
We have our struggles in Kayole. Lack of training equipment like basketballs, training shoes, and jerseys. Training grounds are few yet we have so many kids interested in basketball. They cannot accommodate every child who really wants to play and so we cut down on numbers so we can maximize on training. If we could get help and equipment, there would be a very big change in basketball both in Kayole and the country at large.
10: Do you still have dreams of going pro?
I aspire to play basketball professionally. Taking my game to the next level is my biggest dream and the idea of representing my country out there, fascinates me. If I do that I will be in a position where to support more kids who come from the same place I do, grow the game at all levels. This remains as my biggest motivation.
11: Between 3×3 basketball and the normal 5×5 basketball, where have you had the most fun?
I have had so much fun playing 3×3 basketball. I first played it in 2017 for the under 18 national team in Mombasa, where we won. Since then, my interest in the game grew and I have been following almost all 3×3 games and tournaments.
12: We have basketball academies coming up in Kenya. What does this mean to the youth, and the future of the game?
It means a lot in that many kids can now learn the game the right way. The academies also offer a platform for young players to showcase their talents, through various inter-academy tournaments. As of now, we have products of these academies overseas on athletic scholarships and others are doing well in various leagues locally. The future is bright.
13: Your National team call up came early. What was the feeling since many players don’t get such opportunities at your age?
It was a big deal for me. I was just 19 and I took it as a big opportunity to interact with senior players and as a learning experience. I didn’t make the final squad, but I made the 3×3 team and we represented Kenya at the 3×3 under 23 in Morocco during the All Africa Games. Its just a matter of time, I know I’ll make it to the senior team, Lionesses, soon. I’m working on that now.
14: Moving forward into the future, what should we expect from you as an athlete?
Expect a better player than what you saw last season. The new season is gonna be bigger and better and I will be playing better basketball.
15: You were playing for Africa Nazarene last season and now you are moving to Riara university, what triggered this move?
I moved to Riara University because I got a better scholarship there. I had a 50% scholarship at Africa Nazarene and Riara offered me a full ride. It’s a no-brainer.
It was a tough decision to make but I believe it’s the best move anyone could make faced with that situation.
16: What should we expect from Riara in the new season?
Riara has a pretty amazing team this season. We have very good players coming in from other teams and we’re looking forward to making it to the playoffs this season. It will be a good season for us.
17: What’s your advise to young basketball players, like you, who are trying to make it up the ladder ?
My advice to young ballers is “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” Getting to your goals takes a lot of sacrifice. You have to work yourself as hard as you can every single day, because if you stop there is always somebody else is working harder than you that might take your opportunity. There’s no time to relax.
18: Finally, how hard has the COVID19 pandemic affected you as an athlete?
I have not been able to train fully. I’m somewhat unfit, but as soon as we are allowed to play ball again, there will be no relaxing.
We have to get back to where we were and strive to reach even higher limits. It’s all about sacrifices and I’m willing to go for it.
It’s a proven fact that the future depends on what we do today. The sacrifices of now that later make us better human beings. Caroline Njeri has figured out the pieces of the basketball puzzle and she is striving to put it together. Her ultimate goal is to be a pro and be remembered as one of the greats. Rising to greatness has never been a walk in the park and she believes she has what it takes to become more. With that, comes responsibility, hard work and determination. No matter how tough it gets, she has sworn to make it happen. If you have watched her play, the hard work is shows in all aspects of her game. Growing up in Kayole is challenging enough but as they say, ‘if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, take your own light there.’ Move, push. go forward, grind when you are low and keep flying when you are high. The girl from Kayole is breaking barriers.