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“Minions!” …Really?

  • The National Federation of Basketball on to a new mission We will be talking to two sportsmen today. Renowned basketball giant, multiple times champion, Tesfaalem Zekarias, who , after playing basketball for long, has now assumed the role of coaching the newly established Eritrean national team of basketball, and the captain of the team and point-guard, Senay Temesghen. The newly established national team has recently travelled to Kenya for the prequalifying matches of the Afro Basketball Tournaments. They were called “Minions” and made a joke of due to their physique. The team whose players’ heights range from 198 cms, the tallest, to 175cms, the shortest, have returned home with lessons learned. With or without a cup, the boys did pretty well on the arena given the fact that it is, after all, the first national team after more than two decades. The team promises this is just a mere beginning. Eritrea Profile’s Q&A supports the national team as we introduce you today to the change makers.
  • The national team… Good players were scattered in different teams all over the nation.

The idea of joining the Afrobasket tournaments obviously sped up the process of forming the team. Starting last year the federation was working on it and so we had a prior session that entertained the training for coaches and soon after we summoned 35 elite players out of which 12 joined the tournament in Kenya.

  • And how do you feel about being the national elite team’s coach? It has rather been a short time but how was it?

I can proudly say it is amazing. The work was tough but the players came over it and have made us proud in the tournament. I hate to take the credit alone as it has been a joint venture with my assistant coach, Abiel Afwerki , for whom I have great regards. We worked constantly for two months.

  • Given that this is the first game for the national team, did you and your boys face challenges? How was it?

Our experience is definitely different. But we were good competitors regardless. Technically speaking there were millions of differences between how we play here and how they do it over there. I kept telling my boys to play by the rule. But then we noticed how aggressive the other players were. In our courts the slights push is a call for a foul but not so much over there. Good habits are hard to break. My boys did everything with good manners and I respect them for that. The games were generally played in the same manner. The first quarter would be a bit hard but then they would bound back and sometimes scored more in that part of the game as by the second quarter the boys would normally figure out the other teams’ weaknesses and playing style. I can say that our boys have their own strength that made them unique when compared to other teams. They did not win but they played well. Their passion and devotion is a promise that they indeed kept up the good job and got better by the day. In fact, throughout the tournament they showed buoyant improvement with every game. If that is not the real sign of proficiency, what is?

  • Many of the players of other national teams were players who came from abroad and had had experience playing on international courts? Is there a reason why the Eritrean National Team didn’t do so?

One reason only. We want to strengthen our inner capacity first. We want to encourage our local players and then when we’re strong in all facets we will open up for players who want to join from outside. This is a national team and surely every national is more than welcome. We are not arguing that. However, as this is only the commencement, its foundation needs to be made strong and resilient by any means. There’s a lot that we can do in the future and everyone’s contribution is vital.

  • So, winning was not your goal?

It was one of our goals, of course. Nevertheless, the lessons and experience we’ve gained by playing with fellow basketball professionals worldwide are more important. Our priority has mainly been forming a sustainable national team.

  • Anything at the end?

I want to thank the boys first and foremost. It was a joint experience. So as it is the norm of our community, I thank everyone involved. Media coverage was great too. Through TV or YouTube people were following our games and wholeheartedly supporting us. And I thank the Eritrean community worldwide! They were present in every game waving our flag. It felt like we never left home. The support they showed us is to be praised, and so thank you very much!

  • Thank you as well, Senay. Welcome on our page.

Thank you for having me. My name is Senay Temesgen and I am the captain of the National Basketball Team. I was born and raised in downtown Asmara near the Bocciofila’s Basketball Court. It is an old court; it has been there for ages. But I grew up hearing the cheers that echoed from the grounds. I also watched as many games as I could. When I was younger the sport was a lot more rigorous.

  • So that’s where it started from for you?

Exactly. That is where it all began for me. The dream of being in the court with a ball was a dream that I had from a young age. I have played in teams starting from when I was a teenager. I played in the third division in 2005. Moved to the second division in 2006 and from 2007 up to now I have been playing in teams of the first division. I have recently started playing alongside the elites for the national team.

  • Now that the national team is formed you have also become the captain of it. As you said, this was a childhood dream for you, as it might be that of many young ones too. However it became a dream that was not realized soon. How do you feel about it? This could have been a reality for many of your peers long ago? Now that it is finally happening what does this mean to you?

The whole situation was not favorable. Nevertheless it is still the dream of many. I feel for the younger generations. Every basketball player in this country has been playing simply because of the love and passion for the game. We grew up wanting to be like the players we saw running in courts of Asmara. I know I had my idols growing up. But as the sport stopped suddenly it weakened the dreams of many young boys and girls. Unlike me and people of my age who had our shared role models we looked up to growing up, younger generations didn’t have any. They could see what I saw. Experience what I had experienced when I was their age. Now that it is finally happening it means so much to me and my peers. And beyond that it means that we’re giving our younger brothers and sisters their dreams back. They can finally look up to something like we did back in the days. And aim high for the sake of the country.

  • Has being part of the national team and playing against other national teams been difficult?

No, it hasn’t. We had our problems. Even while forming and preparing for the national team. However, all the personnel in the federation — the management, organizers and media personnel — are all young and as passionate about the sport as we are. Therefore, despite shortcomings and challenges we all pushed forward. And once we were out we were called minions. They saw us and compared us to them. Most of the players there are tall and physically big. We are rather slim compared to them. They said we were no challenge. So much so that the Kenyan team chose to start off their first game with us as a “warm-up”. The coach called us minions but the captain said otherwise in an interview he gave after the game. The first quarter was tough but once we realized their strategies, strength and weaknesses we gave it our all posing ourselves as a challenge.

  • What are the lessons you learned?

We picked up some notes that we’ll work on improving. Moreover, we realized our qualities and we will definitely work on enhancing those and make a label for ourselves through our capacities and specialties. For that to happen what we have started should be encouraged. We, as a team, need to have the right support so that we can fully revive basketball and make it a national sport that can make a name for Eritrea on the international arena.

  • Any final notes?

I want to thank everyone who has supported us. I’d like to remind us all to, please, work on making this an incessant journey.

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