Labelling Eritrea for basketball; a shared vision of professionals in and out of the country

Articles - Q & A

“With the passion and dedication I was surrounded by during my stay here, I think it is a project that is very much doable. Our culture is somewhat exceptional. No matter where you are you would still want to get in touch with and be part of your people,” says Coach Alex as he is most certain about basketball, a sport that’ll very well represent Eritrea like the rest.

We will be sharing the vision and a feasible plan that young Eritrean International Basketball coach is sharing with the Eritrean National Federation for Basketball, local players and coaches. Alexander Loul Syum, Eritrean American Professional International Coach, is back home this summer with the aim of encouraging young Eritrean basketball players and, on the way, help lay a foundation towards the restoration of a national basketball team which hasn’t been in existence since the late 2006. Meet Coach Loul as we introduce him to you and promote his vision.

  • -Good to have you here with us. Can you tell us a bit about what it is that you do?

I do international coaching. Lived in Asia for a year and a half. Prior to that I coached college basketball where I got my own personal training business. Moving to Asia I did work at organizational level; it is called Fast Break Basketball coaching about seven teams of different ages. While I was there I did my own work which was coaching national teams. So, I worked with Singapore’s national team and then I went to Bangkok and Thailand where I worked with the national teams. I also had an opportunity to go to Tokyo where I followed a professional team.

  • -What did you do prior to your big expeditions to Asia?

Prior to all this I was working with professional athletes who are now playing in Spain, Germany, Mexico and a couple of other places in the States. Moreover, I worked with players through college administrations. I’d also had the opportunity to guide them beyond the technical aspects and direct them in the paper works and more. I have done my job for four years now. It started from a “little bit of coaching” to a full time job.

  • -Did you always want to be a professional basketball coach? Was this the dream?

I did every level of basketball since I was young. I did every level except the elite professional level. And that is because of health issues. My body was not equipped enough. So coaching was not the idea but I ended up liking it. I like working with people my age; picking the brains and trying to help them out.

  • -How did you get in touch with the National Federation?

I was born in Khartoum and moved to America when I was three. So, I was raised in America, but my parents are from Eritrea, Mendefera, to be exact. I couldn’t travel to Eritrea as much as I wanted to because of work obligations, but this time around I finished my job in Asia pretty early so I decided to come to Eritrea. It was finally the right time to come back and learn how I could contribute through my profession. I have been here for a month now. And I have enjoyed my stay. I have been looking for contacts with the local basketball federation since last year. That is when I first wanted to come but I couldn’t as I took on several projects in Asia. Once I did my research last year I ended up emailing Eng. Henok Amine, the President of the Federation for basketball. Through him, and thanks to him, I came to know how basketball is done here.

  • -So how has it been so far?

When you work with international teams you get to be around different people, and I am usually the only Eritrean. But here we all are Eritreans and it is such a humbling experience. ‘Am not the only one anymore.’ When I run camps in Asia, for example, I have people from all over the Asian continent but not from Eritrea. I am used to it. I was raised abroad so it comes natural to me. What is actually new and humbling is being able to work with fellow Eritreans. I had fun learning basketball terminologies in Tigrigna and working with local coaches who are doing a tremendous job. My coming in now has nothing to do with trying to step on their toes, rather, I am looking for their help; and it has been great. I wouldn’t trade it for any other camp.

  • -On the sports spectrum, what did you want to discover most while in Eritrea?

I wanted to learn and know how things are done here. I have been blessed to work with high caliber organizations through professional, youth and amateur teams around the world. So I came here to learn and see where I can give back. Share an outside perspective.

  • -What is the impression you have about the young basketball players you worked with during your camp?

The camp I run was based upon conversations. We sat down and we all talked about what they want. Because those guys are giving their all to the sport. They actually love basketball and they like to give back to their community through the sport. Therefore, they’re doing it passionately. They made me think that these kids love the sport and they do it well, but if they knew more about the training aspect they would surpass the standard. So what I wanted to tell them most is to keep on their training so that they make progress. In basketball hard work doesn’t fail you. In my first day I had a lot of questions coming to me from them but on the third day they caught on like fire. They understood and implemented most of the ideas that I shared with them in no time. So during my stay I really wanted to encourage the kids and lift up their spirit.

  • -Are you planning to come back and work with the local basketball teams?

We are just at the beginning. The way my work is aligned in America might give me short breaks of three to four weeks in a while during which I will definitely come back and plan more collaboration with the teams. I would love to come back on a regular basis every year until I get to the point in which I will able to bring my own team of professionals; maybe other Eritrean professionals because I know many who are doing great all over America.

  • -So the dream is an integrated team made up of young Eritreans from home and the diaspora, which will label basketball for the country, correct?

We would be talking about the Eritrean National Basketball Team that will represent not only the country but the Horn as well. There are big teams in other parts of Africa but not quite in our part. The idea we are trying to conceptualize is to get players from here, Europe and America and go compete. Basketball is the third biggest sport in the world and, yes, Eritrea is known for other sports, like cycling, but we can get the best players and make basketball big for Eritrea too. I constantly think about that vision and it all starts with a shared vision. Our culture is somewhat exceptional. No matter where you are you would still want to get in touch with and be part of your people, so I think it will be easy to network and connect with professional players and coaches around the world and make something big. Furthermore, with the passion and dedication I was surrounded by during my stay here I think it is a project that is very much doable in four to five years. There was a game in Bocciofila camp and it was filled with people. The seats were full, people were standing and some were sitting on the wall just to watch a game. So this gives me the idea that if we work on it with certain regulations and deadlines we can qualify and compete.

  • -Would you please share your future plans with us before we end the interview?

I am currently trying to get my FIBA license and we are working on it together with Eng. Henok. That will allow me to come regularly so that I can keep in touch with the progress. Moreover, I am looking for coaching jobs nearby so that it will be easier to be back and forth to Eritrea.

  • -Thank you very much and good luck!