Her name is Brenda Adhiambo. Her alias, Kenyan Queen, shows her love for her country. She is built with a combination of skill and size, which is much needed to dominate in a sport like basketball. As an alumnus of Mombasa High School, Lon Morris in the USA, and Seattle University, Brenda has basically seen basketball at its best. Her experience, work ethic, hunger to succeed and the heart of a champion will be what Kenyans will be looking at when Adhiambo suits up for the Kenya Women’s National Basketball team, the Lionesses.
We reached out to Brenda for an exclusive interview in which she told us more herself.
1: With your great basketball resumé, what do you find is your greatest addition to the Lionesses?
My experience, leadership, and high energy on both ends of the floor. As a student of the game, I hope that my experience playing in the US will help bring victory to Kenya.
2: Does being one of the most experienced players in the line up motivate you or does it build up pressure in terms of expected performance?
I do feel the pressure and I consider it motivation. Challenge is the whole point of competing. As a player, called forth to represent Kenya, I’m looking forward to all that comes with it.
3: How would you compare basketball in the United States and Kenya?
I would say it’s slightly different. The style of play is different. The game is faster, the dunks are fascinating and such performances are revered and displayed online. This could easily give a player an opportunity for recruitment. The support from teams and fans is much better. We do need that in Kenya, especially from our sports ministry and the government in general.
I left Kenya eleven years ago so I am certain a lot has changed. In December 2019 I got a chance to watch my hometown team KPA play in Kigali at the BAL inaugural season qualifiers against Cobra of South Sudan and it was such a treat. As a fan, I enjoyed seeing the players go to war, and as a student of the game, I saw a great improvement in Kenyan basketball. Guys like Ariel Okall were leaving it all on the floor. The passion and leadership of coach Anthony Ojukwu, the brotherhood, the spirit, how uplifting the coaches and the teammates were, was so great to witness. I really saw a lot of potential that has yet to be tapped into. I do believe collectively we as a country can develop our basketball program to those standards by coming together as a cohesive unit.
As much as the US is considered the Mecca of basketball, I would say it’s not that much different from Kenya. Kenya, and Africa as a whole produces great athletes, it’s just that the opportunities are minimal. I love the direction that the BAL is taking, and I am hopeful that some of the great African athletes will continue to come home and help develop the league to better standards.
4: You run a program called Wachezaji. What do Kenyan basketball fans and upcoming generations need to know about your program?
It is a Non-profit Organization that assists talented recent high school graduates find basketball scholarships in the US. Most importantly, it helps them earn an education to further their lives once their athletic career is done.
5: Fantastic, have you managed to give a few of them this opportunity?
Yes. We have had two from Burundi, Florence Sifa Kalume and Inès Nazerwa who have recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati and Iowa State respectively. Soon we will have two more student athletes from Cameroon and South Sudan, before the school year starts. We are also working hard with a few from Kenya and hopefully we can get them into the US later this year.
The goal of Wachezaji is to build great citizens of the world. When one athlete makes it here, our hope is that they get better on and off the basketball court, build a great relationship with their teammates and coaching staff, and that later, they can bring a former teammate from back home to the US on a basketball scholarship. That is how we were able to get Inès to the US through Florence Sifa Kalume.
6: What inspired you to start the Wachezaji program?
There were two players by the name of Caroline Omamo and Bertha Akuno who were always talked about in the team of ’94 that participated in Australia. They were the legends that we always looked up to. I briefly met Caroline Omamo and was lucky enough to meet and watch Bertha Akuno, who was a force inside the paint before retiring from basketball.
I was also lucky to be mentored by the great Susan Agoya when I was in high school at Mombasa High. She played with my elder sister, Jacky Ododa Aluga, who is the reason I also started playing basketball. I wear #45 to honor her legacy. In my eyes, she is one of the best post players to ever come out of Kenya.
In high school some of us got the chance to workout with KPA’s women’s basketball team. During practices the legend Susan Agoya always made sure I was dribbling the ball on the sidelines when I wasn’t on the court. She would teach me guard moves, explain how to read and understand defense. How to stay engaged on the sidelines which I came to appreciate later on in my career. She understood the impact she had on us, the young and upcoming generation. I truly appreciated her. This are some of the people that inspired me to start the Wachezaji program. To be able to give upcoming players the opportunity to become better and be great.
7: Where do you see Kenyan women’s basketball in five years?
Honestly I see our women’s basketball going places. I see us making it to the FIBA World Championship like the team from 1994. We have the potential to make it further. We have a great core of experienced players such as Rose Ouma Nalo, Georgia Adhiambo and trailblazers like Felmas Adhiambo Koranga to name a few. The ground work is being done, and I love the leadership of Kenyan legends such as Angela Luchivya, Sylvia Kamau and Eunice Ouma, who are putting in the time and constantly updating and motivating us. We are in great hands and it’s up to us to continue in their footsteps.
8: Are we on the right track? Are we doing enough for women’s basketball?
Yes we are, though there is a lot that needs to be done. It is not satisfying where we are right now, but I can assure you we are on the right track.
9: Any word for the younger generation who look up to you as basketball players?
1. Never be satisfied with being average
2. Embrace discomfort, it brings out the best in you.
3. Be a student of the game. Remember, someone who has the same dreams as you, is putting in the work right now.
4. Get to the gym, find where you can dribble, shoot the ball and run. Anything you can do to get and stay active.
5. Ask questions and never doubt yourself. You should start by believing in yourself in order for others to believe in you.
6. Be brave, be bold and above all, be the best version of yourself.
10: What are our chances at the FIBA Afrobasket qualifiers? The competition is looking tough. Can Kenya go in there and emerge victorious?
I believe it’s possible. The matchups will be tough but we can emerge victorious. This team that was selected is very special. I believe in us and we believe in our chances. We lace up the same way they do, so that when the whistle blows, it’s game time until the last second. We got each other, and we need our country to support us as a whole. The Morans did great so Lionesses can do it too.
Its easy to tell how passionate Brenda is about the game of basketball. Her hunger to succeed and the positive energy she brings to the table is inspirational. The fire that burns within her is contagious and much needed. She shines a light on her way to greatness. A light that the younger generations will need to guide themselves to higher levels of the game. A lot is yet to be done for sports, generally, but with powerful women like Brenda Adhiambo, we are on the right track and we will get there. It’s just a matter of time.
Editor: Brenda Mwaniki