National Basketball Association (NBA) star, Festus Ezeli-Ndulue, arrived in the country on Monday this week and proceeded to hold coaching clinics at Lehakoe Club.
The Nigerian—a star with American NBA team Golden State Warriors—also shared his journey to the top of the world’s greatest professional basketball league with youngsters who lapped on his every word and followed his every move during what is arguably Lesotho basketball’s finest moment.
Ezeli-Ndulue (25) told the young players and invited guests that he left Nigeria in 2004 knowing nothing about the basketball—only for his passion to develop upon his arrival in the United States (US) where his parents had sent him to live with his uncle soon after completing his high school education.
“I left this continent for better opportunities; it was hard at the beginning, but studying in the US opened opportunities for me through basketball,” Ezeli-Ndulue said.
“I managed to study at college, so I will have something to fall back on at the end of my basketball career, which is why it is important to tell youngsters about the importance of academic studies. Combining sport with education is very important.”
Ezeli-Ndulue said he was happy to be in Africa and also feature in the NBA’s first exhibition game at Ellis Park, Johannesburg last Saturday. Ezeli-Ndulue played for Team Africa against Team World, with the former losing 97-101 before a roaring and spilling Ellis Park Arena.
“This trip made sense to me; I needed to come here and celebrate my success with my people,” said Ezeli-Ndulue.
“My biggest reason for coming here is not about playing basketball but to share my road with the youth of this continent; to tell the kids that I’m like them, I’m an African son.
“I came here to inspire the youngsters and tell them that they can achieve what I have achieved.”
Ezeli-Ndulue said basketball-hopefuls should always work hard to achieve their dreams.
“Right from the start, my parents would tell me there was nothing I could not do if I really worked hard. I was told I could not make it when I first started playing basketball in the US, but at the end, I was the only one from my high school who graduated to college-basketball.”
Meanwhile, Econet Telecom Lesotho Retail Manager, Maphunye Putsoa—whose company sponsored Ezeli-Ndulue’s two-day trip to Lesotho—said the reason for bringing-in the NBA star was to inspire the youths through sport.
“We are excited to be here today with someone of Festus’ calibre. Econet Telecom Lesotho’s tagline says ‘inspire to change the world’ and that’s what we are doing today—we are changing Lesotho as far as basketball is concerned,” said Putsoa.
“The beauty about sport is that it transcends all barriers; it transcends barriers of gender, race, you name it. We may not speak the same language but sport unites us.
“We are here to celebrate with basketball-lovers and young basketball-players as Econet has decided to do a first for this country by bringing a star who plays in the biggest basketball league in the world.
“Like I have mentioned, all we want is for the youth to dream bigger and achieve the highest level that is there to be achieved. We want them to dream big and grow beyond Lesotho or Africa the way Festus has done.”
Sekhoane Moshabesha, who spoke on behalf of the Lesotho Basketball Association (LBA) during Monday’s session, expressed gratitude to Econet for bringing the NBA icon to the Mountain Kingdom.
“I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Econet for this historic day. You have inspired kids to be champions with what you have done today. The LBA will never forget this day and we hope it’s the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between our two organisations,” said the LBA vice-president.
Meanwhile, Putsoa noted the LBA would benefit by having basketball equipment valued at over M40 000 that was bought for coaching clinics conducted by Ezeli-Ndulue.