Natalie has undoubtedly had an amazing year. From being the MVP at the Zone 5 Club Championship in Uganda to getting an honorable mention in the recently concluded Africa Champions Cup Women (ACCW) tournament in Angola. A Premier League title this year is all she needs to crown it all, and going by her work ethic, it would be rightfully earned. At a young age she won a bronze medal in Morocco and has since consistently proved to be a force to reckon with. She opens up about these and more.
Where did you start and what has your journey been like?
I started playing in high school at Bulimbo Girls, while in form 3. In form 4 (2010) I received a call up for the Kenya U18 team. I made the list and we went on to perform amazingly well.
The first team in the league that I played for was Western Delights, for two seasons, 2011 and 2012. I was then called to KPA in 2013 but I was still in school at the Technical University of Kenya so I joined Eagle Wings where I participated in my first Zone 5 Club Championship in Burundi and we won. We proceeded to ACCW in Morocco and I won a bronze medal as a rookie. It was one of my greatest achievements.
I am grateful that I passed through the hands of the late coach Smatts Olumbo. I joined KPA in 2014. A lot of people were against it but I was sure I made the right decision and I’m glad I did that. So far, I have won 3 Zone 5 titles but no Premier League title.
Is basketball something that runs in your family?
No, but I am from a sports family. My mum played netball and dad played football.
Eagle Wings were big back then, why do you think the team is struggling now?
Nearly all the players moved to other teams.
How important has Samba and Hilda been to your growth as a player over the years?
Hilda has played a big role in my growth. I used to admire how she played and fought till the last whistle. She never gives up. For Samba, I took some points from her because we play the same position.
What’s your training schedule like?
I train daily, at least for 2 hours with Emyba or Umoja. I work on ball handles, defence and offence. I make sure I make 200 perimeter shots and 100 3-point shots daily.
Your team(KPA) has played in international tournaments before. What preparations did you make this time, prior to ACCW? What did you do different?
We had a positive mind. Last year we were position 7 so this year our chase started in the pool games. We had the chance to be in the semis but First Bank outplayed us so out target was position 5 and that is what we focused on.
In your opinion, was your team’s overall performance good or bad?
Good. We were one team and everyone was giving her best the moment they stepped on that court.
You were among the honorable mentions. How do you feel about that?
I am grateful to the Almighty and also my team mates. I wouldn’t have been honoured if it wasn’t for them. I am also grateful to my coaches for pushing me hard. They want me to be the best so I listen a lot to what I’m told.
What lessons did you learn from ACCW?
I have to be more aggressive defensively, I have to play with time and scores, I have to run the shot clock down and attack under 10 seconds, we(guards) need to shoot from out and make sure our percentages are good, every possession should at least reach the big man on the paint, we have to score easy baskets and a lot from the paint, we have to move the basketball.
You are an amazing player. What sets you apart from other point guards in Kenya?
I guess I set targets for myself. Basketball is a sport I play with a lot of passion and heart.
What challenges do you as an individual face?
Lack of motivation from the federation, substandard venues for the games, dragging of the league as I have not had an offseason since 2014 and lack of insurance and safety for players.
What are your most treasured memories and achievements so far?
Most treasured memory is winning the bronze medal at the age of 20. Winning the best point guard and MVP this year at the Zone 5 Cub Championship was my greatest achievement.
What are your current ambitions?
To play pro, mostly in Europe or Angola.
Do you feel KPA, as a sponsor is doing enough? What can it do better?
If only they can employ players. That’s all.
There is this common notion that Kenyan Basketball is useless so people focus on careers, etc while paying less attention to the sport. What’s your take on that?
That is true. Basketball is like a hobbie to many, something to keep them busy over the weekend. Uganda is coming up strong because their federation has looked for sponsors and it makes their league interesting compared to ours. If we are not careful, in 2 years Uganda will be more developed in terms of basketball and that’s why many of our players have moved there.
From the international tournaments you’ve been, what do the winning teams (country at large) do that we don’t?
They treat their players like Gold. Players get what they want unlike us.
Apart from basketball, what else are you passionate about?
Traveling and adventure.
We have a Women’s Basketball Commission. Any pointers for them?
Support Women basketball without judging. I see myself equal to others. I just take basketball more seriously and put a lot of training to work on my wellness and strengths.
What’s your advice to upcoming young players who want to play on the big stage?
They should always believe in themselves and know that they are not at that level by chance.