Two-time African Champion, Chioma Udeaja after her recent triumph with D’Tigress, tells our Sola Oyeniyi that winning the FIBA Afrobasket trophy is no mean feat.
Ms. Chioma who plays for First Bank basketball club, was one of the 3 home based players at the tournament in Mali. She recounts her experience with the national team and her basketball career.
How did it all start?
Long story. It started years back, I’ve been playing basketball for 15-16 years now. I was not a fan of sports, I never liked sports but when I’m walking on the road people would be like “Dogo” and you know the meaning of Dogo in Hausa is tall woman. So I’ll be like what is Dogo? Then I used to be shy and very slim so whenever they call me Dogo I would be very shy and be like, you people should just leave me alone.
So some of them would be like ‘you have the height to do sports’ and I would be like sports? (Hisses, not me and you.) It got to a point I started putting interest but what I wanted to start with was track and field because I was like, I am tall, I have long legs and I can run but most people were like go and play basketball you have the height. One day, I woke up and decided to come to the national stadium here (Surulere) to look for a basketball coach. I came here and asked somebody, please I need to see any basketball coach around and they directed me to coach Owolo. I walked up to him and told him: “Sir I want to start playing basketball” and he told me no problem, go and get your kits and let’s start. That was how I started.
Did your parents initially support your decision to play basketball?
My parents supported me from the beginning.
How has it been knowing that you’re now an African Champion and how has it changed your life?
It’s been an amazing experience and this is the second time I am winning the Afrobasket trophy with the national team. The first one was in 2005 and then this year. It has been an amazing experience being with the national team.
First of all, I want to say thank you to God because it is not easy being selected among millions of Nigerians to represent your country. Whenever a camp is being called, many players would be called to camp but few would be chosen, it is not an easy thing. I give God the glory because without him, all these things would not be possible.
Where I am right now, he has taken me so far in my career and I am grateful to him. So it has been an amazing experience bringing back the cup after twelve years since 2005. It’s something that whenever I think of it, all I keep saying is thank you Lord, thank you Lord because winning an Afrobasket title is not a child’s play. When you get there you will know what I’m talking about but I thank God for everything, for how far he has taken us.
What was your reaction when you discovered you were part of the team to Mali?
My reaction? How do I explain this? I was just being happy. Thanking God, kneeling for my God because it’s not easy o. People that were dropped are good players too, so there’s nothing you can do than being grateful to God.
What was the minimum target when you set off for Mali?
The target was to go there and get the cup irrespective of who we were to face. We were that determined. In 2015 in Cameroun, we got to the quarter-finals but we lost out to the hosts, Cameroon. Although, I would say the game was forcefully taken away from us because we were leading into the last seconds and then something happened. The referees, if you ask me I would say they sided them, they were on their side maybe because they were the hosts or something, I don’t know. But this year, we said that would not repeat itself again and we thank God because even if they tried to do it in this last one there’s nothing we can do. So God took control.
What was your toughest match and when during the tournament did it hit you that you would go on to win the tournament?
When you play Senegal and Mali, all these people that when they get to the court they don’t want anything less than winning. They are aggressive and they are physical. But the toughest match I would say was Mali, the host country. We met them in the quarter-finals and after that, we knew we would go on to win the title because the Senegal we met in the finals, we already played in the group stage and defeated them.
But you still don’t think that way because I’ve played so many games before where we beat a team in the group stage and they beat us in the knockout stage. So when you beat a team in group stage and you are meeting them again in the knockout stage and you are going there relaxed feeling you have beaten them before, if you go with that kind of feeling things sometimes go wrong. So even the team you have beaten before and you’re meeting them again, you have to put in more effort because if you are not careful, you’re going to lose the game.
Were you surprised at the reception when you got back?
I expected that anyway. I wasn’t surprised and I felt good about it.
Describe the feeling of getting to meet the President.
I shook his hands (laughing). It felt so good. You know, when we were entering Aso Rock I was like; me, Chioma entering Aso Rock because we won the Afrobasket? Oh God, I’m grateful. I was just thanking God. It was a dream come true. When it got to the stage of shaking his hands wow… I was like looking at the camera; O boy please try to get me shaking the President. It was an amazing feeling, we thank God.
We heard that not all of you were allowed in to see the President, why was this?
Everybody went in. It was just a little write up mistake about the names but eventually everybody went in. We all went in”.