The D’Tigress rocked up to Mali, trashed the hosts living room and came back with FIBA AfroBasketball trophy. At aclsports.com we will celebrate them as much as is possible. BIOLA OMOWANLE caught up with Guard, Upe Atosu in Lagos. Atosu has been a winner on all fronts in 2017. Clinching the Zenith Women’s Basketball League title with First Bank Basketball Club, emerging one of the best five players of the tournament, selected as one of the three home-based players to represent Nigeria at the 2017 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket Championship and then winning the title against all odds is no mean feat. The 24-year-old Guard from Edo State spoke on winning the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket, her career and more.
Congratulations on winning the 2017 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket Championship. How exactly does it feel?
It’s a great thing, I’m so happy. It is something you you cannot comprehend so easily. After 12 years, this time Nigeria had to take it back home. It’s a thing of joy and I’m so excited about it.
Before leaving for Mali, was the team given any target by the team managers, coaches or the NBBF to reach a certain level of the tournament?
Yes, we had a goal. Before we left Nigeria for Mali, we already had a goal. The goal was to bring the trophy back home. No explanations, nothing more than that. So it was on everyone’s minds. So during every game you have to be very conscious of what you’re doing, you have to be disciplined. You know, to be a champion, you have to be disciplined. There’s a level of concentration and coordination you need to have. We were able to have it and that actually gave us the victory.
At what point during the competition did you realize “Yes! We can actually do this, we are going for gold!”?
Actually, before I left the country, I already knew we were coming back with gold. When I looked at countries in our group, it was a tough group. In fact, our group was the toughest. But when we started, we found each game easy. The only difficult game that we had was against the hosts, Mali. That was the toughest game that we had. At one point in the game, we were kind of scared but later on in the game, I discovered that we were far better off than them though they were the home team. At the end of the day, we had the victory.
My dream also is to play at the Olympics. We were supposed to be at Rio but during the 2015 Afrobasket, it slipped off our hands. But it’s worth it now, we will be at the World Championships.
I was going to ask which team was the toughest…
Mali was the toughest, because we beat them by one point. You know what it means to beat a home team, to play against the crowd, to play against the team, it’s not as easy as anyone thinks but we were able to get through it and I’m so happy about it.
How has winning the Women’s Afrobasket changed your life, professionally, in terms of income and all?
First and foremost, mentally, I’m changed. Because every change starts from the inside. It has mentally changed my mind, changed my perception, changed the way I play the game. There is a different mentality now and there is a new level of confidence that I also have. Financially, yes, as you win the Afrobasket, a lot of opportunities would be trooping in. It’s just a matter of time, I believe great things will start falling out as well.
I would say what to expect is for us to win. We are playing in a world championship where the top teams in Europe, Asia are coming to compete as well. We expect to give our best. Of course, I am looking forward to it, I’m already working out for it because I want to be there. It’s a dream come true and I’m so happy about it.
Before I left the country, I already knew we were coming back with gold.
How exactly did your career start?
My career started in 2009, when I joined First Deepwater Basketball Club. I was with Deepwater for five years, we won the championship for four straight years. That’s where my career actually started from. All this while, it’s been upward and forward only, I give God all the glory. And it will continue to be upward and forward. It’s not going to end here. My dream also is to play at the Olympics. We were supposed to be at Rio but during the 2015 Afrobasket, it slipped off our hands. But it’s worth it now, we will be at the World Championships.
In Nigeria where most parents want their children to be lawyers, doctors and the likes, did your parents support your basketball career from the beginning?
Of course, my parents supported me. Especially my mom. She really encouraged me through it and I was very serious. Basketball for me was love at first sight and since I started, it’s been favoring me abs my parents supported me. So, to all the parents out there, I tell you the truth, basketball and sports in general go a long way. Basketball gave me education, I got into school as a result of a scholarship. I think that if you want to be a doctor, you can be a doctor and be a basketballer, it doesn’t stop you. It only depends on how determined you are and how you want to achieve what you want to achieve. Sports is never a barrier, it’s a plus to what you want to become in life.
What else do you do apart from playing basketball?
Right now, it’s just basketball that I do. For now, nothing else. But hopefully, sooner or later, something else is going to come in.
Do you intend leaving the shores of the country to play for a foreign club?
Of course! ‘Who go see better thing wey e no go go for am’? When it comes, I will. It’s also a plus. It’s something I would like to achieve as well, I’m looking forward to that.
You were one of the few home-based players selected to play at the Women’s Afrobasket. How did it feel being one of the only three?
The Minister for Sports, Solomon Dalung said something. He said there are no longer home-based players, we are national players. Nevertheless, I feel happy, I feel fulfilled, it’s an opportunity. I’m grateful to God and also to the NBBF for the opportunity to be a part of it. I always feel good. It was my third time at the Afrobasket and it has been awesome.
What next should we expect from you as a person, as a basketballer?
I would say, just expect something from me. Stay glued to your phones, stay glued to the media. Watch out!