By John Elambo
Nakeisha Ekwandja and her twin sister Mikhaela discovered basketball through their parents as it was the only sport they watched on TV or in person.
“They then got our older brother obsessed with the game and wanted to sign him up for a rep team so that he could get a chance to play competitively,” Ekwandja said. “Since they were signing him up, they thought that they might as well do the same for me and my sister.”
Although basketball was a love for the family, Ekwandja and her sister didn’t share the same affection for the sport before trying out for the Scarborough Basketball Association.
“After a few months on the team, that passion was starting to form,” Ekwandja said. “And now, 10 years later, the love for the game is stronger than ever. I am so thankful that they signed us up for those tryouts.”
Playing alongside her sister adds to the fun of basketball, according to Ekwandja.
“It’s a sport that is very dependent on building chemistry with your teammates, so playing with someone I know very well and already have a lot of chemistry with, helps me play my best basketball,” she said.
They’ve been playing on the same team since they started, and Mikhaela has always been there to give her feedback and encouragement.
Ekwandja loves that basketball provides so many different ways in which can help your team be successful.
“Scoring holds a lot of power, however, if you’re not the best scorer, then you can be the best rebounder, or defender, or play-maker, or passer, or shot-blocker,” she said. “Some sports only value scorers, but basketball is a sport where people who are good in any of those different aspects of the game are still valued.”
The twins’ parents were very encouraging and supportive.
“I played for the SBA for seven years and they were with me every step of the way,” she said of her mom and dad. “They were familiar with the practice schedule, the tryouts and the tournaments, and they had a lot of good things to say about the organization.”
Ekwandja’s fondest memory of playing for the SBA was winning a bronze medal at the Ontario Basketball Association (OBA) provincial championships when she was in the seventh grade.
“Although bronze is not as good as winning the gold, it was a significant moment for me because it was during that bronze medal game that I discovered my defensive abilities,” she said. “I was able to shut down the best player on the opposing team, which led to our victory.
After finding out she was good at defense, it became a big part of her game.
Ekwandja shouts out her first SBA coach from when she was 10-years-old, Kelly Robertson, as a big influence.
“She basically taught me about the fundamentals of basketball on both offense and defense,” she said. “She also allowed me to see my full potential by continuously encouraging me and instilling confidence in me. And most importantly, she showed me just how fun playing basketball can be, which played a big part in creating the passion that I have for the sport today.”
Ekwandja praises the SBA for being a very competitive basketball organization, believing that being on an SBA team will most likely allow you to play alongside other talented athletes.
During her high school basketball career, Ekwandja has won multiple championships, four Toronto District Catholic Athletic Association (TDCAA) championships, the OFSAA championship, a two-time JUEL league champion. For her, the OFSAA championship beats all these other championships.
“It was a historic win. By winning that title, we became the first catholic all-girls school from Toronto to win an OFSAA championship for basketball, so it was a huge moment,” she said. “The win was not only big for our team, but it was a huge accomplishment for the whole school.
“It meant a lot and I won’t ever forget the feeling of cutting down the net and holding the championship trophy.”
The Ekwandja sisters are both students at the University of Toronto, where they have one season of basketball under their belt.
She enjoyed getting to know her teammates, getting to spend basically every day with them, and forming a friendship with them in less than a year was really great for her.
“I definitely miss the bonding that takes place when you get to see your teammates in person,” she said.
Nakeisha misses the energy the crowd when she is on the court. Even if it’s the crowd of the away team, there’s just this added element of fun in the gym when a crowd is watching the game, she said.
“Hearing people cheer, scream, clap, chant, and even heckle, adds an atmosphere that makes me feel like I’m about to have a great game. Some people get nervous when people are watching, but I see it as a chance to try to give the spectators a game that’s worth watching.”