A smiling beast is a rare find, much like Mercy Wanyama. Her peers call her ‘beast’ or MVP due to her prowess and unmatched ability to dominate games. She has dominated the Kenyan basketball scene for years, playing for Equity Bank Hawks and Storms. Always visible is her smile that lights up from Kenya to Spain, where she plays professionally for AD Cortegada. The 6’1” post comes from a family known for sports. Her two brothers, ex Kenyan international, McDonald Mariga and Harambee Stars Captain, Victor Wanyama are both football legends in Kenya. Her parents also played sports, with her father suiting up for AFC Leopards. Her love for sports was nurtured at an early age. She grew up as a student of sportsmanship and at a young age she learnt how to be a winner. A culture that most athletes lack. She attended Shiners Girls in Nakuru and later transferred to Langata High School, this is where she seriously considered basketball as a sport. Th3 Doctor’s Report reached out to Mercy for an exclusive interview and this is what she had to say:
1: In your own words, describe Mercy Wanyama?
Mercy is a hardworking lady who gets things done, always finishes what she starts and focuses on positive things.
2: When did you first encounter the game of basketball?
That was in primary school but I didn’t pay much attention to it, like most girls my age. I used to train with my sister then I seriously got into the game in high school.
3: I have asked this question a thousand times and I normally get very good answers. What is your motivation? What makes you wake up in the morning wanting to better yourself?
My son is my motivation he looks up to me so I have to be at my level best at everything on and off the court. My family as well, we are very close and highly competitive so that brings out the best in us at all times.
4: Your Family is deeply rooted in sports, football to be precise. Why did you choose basketball ?
Football was my first love. All my older siblings were all in soccer but back then ladies soccer was not taken seriously. I followed my mother and elder sister to netball since that’s the game they used to play. I joined basketball after being spotted during a netball game in high school and I haven’t looked back since.
5: Let’s talk about accolades. How many have you bagged so far?
I have a couple from high school. I also won the National Secondary School Championship, the KBF women’s premier league championship with Equity bank and I bagged the league MVP. I have been the Zone V best power forward twice and Zone V best center twice. As you can see my silverware cabinet is almost full.
6: Having seen basketball overseas, is women’s basketball in Kenya growing? Can you see significant growth and what more can we do to improve the state of women’s basketball in kenya?
I don’t really think so. It’s not the significant growth we want. We’ve stagnated, while our neighbouring countries have developed and reached our level. We were way ahead of them.
The only improvement right now is that more and more ladies are getting opportunities to go and play abroad and study as well. That’s something to be celebrated.
To improve, we should go back to proper youth development initiatives. We have to nurture talent at a young age and follow it up with proper school placement programs. This way talent will not be lost even when the kids progress in education. There is need for continuation in sports from primary to high school, high shool to university, and university to pro level. Also the focus is on us who are playing professional basketball to make sure that we set a blazing path for those looking up to us. We should use our platforms to open doors for others to join. The cake is too big for us, we need to share it.
7: How many countries have you played in?
So far I have been lucky enough to play in Spain, though in different cities and for two different teams.
8: Describe your experience playing in Spain?
It’s been a dream come true for sure. So much growth for me as a player and as a person. Playing in Spain has also opened new frontiers for me and basically I have know how the basketball world is in general. It comes with challenges as usual, language barriers, different cuisines and weather. But all in all I give thanks to God for such an amazing opportunity to play at such a high level.
9: As a professional basketball player I face a few challenges out there. Do you experience any challenges playing basketball overseas?
Yes most definitely. Being away from family is always hard but they understand and support me. The language barrier, different weather patterns and all that.
10: What are some of the goals you have set for yourself both in club/pro basketball and national team level?
At club level, I want to play in the Women’s EuroLeague/ Euro cup in the upcoming seasons and win a couple champions in Europe.
At national team level, I want to help the National Team qualify for Afrobasket and compete for a slot in the medal bracket.
11: The FIBA Women’s Afrobasket Qualifiers will be in July in Rwanda, the competition is stiff in our zone. What are Kenya’s chances of returning to the Afrobasket?
Right now with the kind of support basketball is receiving in the country, we have a very good chance to assemble the best ladies team ever, go compete against the best in Africa and upset a few giants along the way. The other East African countries have to get through us as well.
12: You took part in the last Afrobasket, What needs to be done to ensure the lionesses return to that platform and win?
Proper preparation is the only way to go about this. A proper camp with minimal interruptions, we should be good. Players are highly motivated to perform at this year’s Afrobasket qualifiers, we are just waiting for the call-ups to get things rolling.
13: What are some of the life lessons that you have learnt along the way, as a professional athlete, that you can share with the young players?
There are no shortcuts. Life requires hard work, discipline and a lot of sacrifice with that all the pieces will fall in place for sure.
You always have to set your goals and stay focused to achieve them.
14: If you had one wish, what would you wish for ?
I would wish for basketball to be a proper source of income back home in Kenya. We just need to package our basketball and make it marketable and we will reap it’s benefits. So many investors look at basketball they want to come in and help but we have to make it marketable and appealing to them. We must make sure basketball as a product is enticing to sponsors.
15: Looking back at your basketball life and career, if you were to live it all again, would you change anything ?
No. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m not here by chance, God planned everything.
16: Any wise words for the basketball lovers and stakeholders?
Anything is possible in this life regardless of the challenges.
Let’s put money into basketball and reap the awards that come with it.
A mother who derives her motivation from her son, Mercy has set the pace for all players in Kenya with ambitions to make it in sports. Her superpower is confidence and she wears that crown beautifully. Mercy Wanyama’s journey in basketball is still fresh as she just hit her prime. Her journey to the pros should impact young girls lives and inspire aspirations of success, because anything is indeed possible. Mercy Wanyama ‘the smiling beast’ is the true definition of dominance.