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Part I – Senegal
Getting off the plane, one of the first things I experienced was being greeted by two members of the US Department of State, Sports Envoy Program - Kristin Stewart and Sarah Diouf . I was amazed at the beauty of Senegal. It may not be the wealthiest; however, I was taken aback by the calming effect of the lush environment and the water amidst the chaos of the people that were everywhere. I was fortunate to share this experience with my fellow Tennessee Volunteer and Brooklyn Nets player C.J. Watson.
As an athlete, I was impressed by the statuesque physique of the people. They all had beautiful skin and their bodies were long and lean. It was as if I had landed in the middle of a basketball province. Everyone was welcoming and curious and wanted to know who we were. One thing that stood out is all of their brilliant smiles that looked like ivory against deep shades of ebony.
Our hotel was on the water. After sharing lunch and going over the schedule for the basketball clinics, we enjoyed a tour of Goree Island. The impact was profound because I have spent a great deal of time studying my culture. I take great pride in my ethnicity and I felt connected to the continent and its people. For those who don’t know, Goree Island was the point of departure for West Africans sent into slavery many years ago. It is a place that stirs up many emotions. As C.J. and I stood in the “door of no return”, I was overwhelmed with the historical value of this very location.
Before I headed to Senegal, I watched a documentary entitled Elevate. This movie was recommended to me so that I may gain a better understanding of the basketball culture in Senegal and learn about SEEDS Academy. This is the same academy that our training took place. The documentary moved me and I was inspired to be a part of this camp. What meant more to me was the growth of basketball. To be able to witness how much the game has grown overall and the addition of girls’ basketball. Although SEEDS Academy is an all boys’ facility their camps/clinic hosted an equal number of male and female athletes.
The female athletes blew my mind! Some of these girls were as tall as me, if not taller. They ran the floor like deer and possessed amazing body control! I really wanted to bring them home with me.
I was really taken back at the athleticism and the attention to detail that these kids possessed. Their physiques left me staring in awe. All I could think was “if only I could put them in my suitcase and take them back to the U.S. with me to help them progress as student athletes and give them more opportunities – Wow!” ☺
Part II – South Africa
After four days in Senegal, C.J. and I had to head to our next destination where Basketball Without Borders takes place. There we met up with several NBA GM’s, coaches, and players. I was the lone woman representing for the ladies!
It was a great experience. It was the tenth anniversary of BWB. They were able to bring in 100 of the top male players from all over Africa and 25 of the top female players from South Africa. This marked the third year that women were included in the program. It was a different experience because women aren’t pushed to play sports in South Africa.
It was an honor to help grow the sport and encourage these women to be great on and off the court. I really enjoyed the life skills sessions with the women where they talked a lot about life outside of basketball and the different things they were struggling with culturally. I enjoyed taking them through drills that they had never experienced.
Although we were very busy, I got to experience some Jo-Burg nightlife and get C.J. out on the dance floor! This world is definitely getting smaller. While there, I ran into Talib Kweli, a popular American Hip Hop artist who is married to a friend of mine.
Overall, I love Johannesburg. I have been many places worldwide and have been to South Africa several times. I got to go to the Apartheid Museum. While there, I got chills. It is amazing what can occur when people come together and stand up for what they believe. Nelson Mandela has always been a hero to me. For me, there is a certain draw to Jo-Burg. I could see myself living there. Also, it was awesome that I got to spend time with Dikembe Mutumbo who is an incredible global humanitarian.
I was able to take part in Habitat for Humanities and actually met the people for whom we were building the house. It was a heart-warming experience. To see how happy they were and how these homes were changing their lives made me feel incredible. We were laying mortar and bricks and were an active part of improving someone’s life. There is no better feeling than that.
In Alexandria Township, I was able to attend the unveiling of four brand new basketball courts that were renovated by the NBA. This area was comparable to where I grow up and I know the children were appreciative. The courts represented a safe haven and I was happy to be a part of it.
Overall, this experience was very rewarding and I learned a lot more about myself. Typically, I am extremely laid back; but when I go into Coach Holdsclaw mode, I am bouncing off the walls. My energy level was so high. I am very passionate about giving back to the kids. I have been very blessed to be able to have amazing opportunities through the sport of basketball. To be able to give back all the knowledge I have obtained through my career has been very fulfilling.
Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with all of you. Peace and blessings. ~ Mique