The life span of a female athlete is often considered short but not for these select five women that are defying the odds and playing basketball at the highest level in Africa and at the world stage for close to two decades.
From an environment that is slowly but steadily adjusting to women being full time athletes to cultural and religious stereotypes about women playing basketball or sport in general, these heroines stand out for their commitment and continued excellence at the top.
Age is just a number. For them, hard work and humility amidst success is what keeps them going but most importantly the support of key stakeholders in their lives like family, team officials, Governments and passionate fans that have committed to supporting women’s basketball along with its success stories and failures in hand.
Ngiendula Filipe (Angola)
A two-time FIBA Women’s AfroBasket winner with Angola in 2011 and 2013, Felipe is one of a kind. Having also won the FIBA Africa Women’s Champions Cup an impressive four times with Inter Clube between 2010-2016, she is Africa’s most decorated player at both country and club level since the turn of the century.
Filipe is playing at her eighth straight FIBA Women’s AfroBasket and to say that this record is absolutely amazing is an understatement.
Her shyness on and off the court means that it is easy not to pay attention to her but she is one to let all her work do the talking on court. She casts a lone figure visibly most of the time – a woman of a few words but those inside the paint have a different perspective of her works.
At 37, she belongs to the upper class of older and wiser players at the ongoing FIBA Women’s AfroBasket in Senegal and is averaging 7.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.5 assists. Her performance has inspired Angola to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics pre-qualifying tournament that will be played in November.
Filipe also played for Angola at the London 2012 Olympics as well as the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2014 in Turkey.
Astou Traore (Senegal)
At 38, Traore is featuring in her seventh edition of the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket and befittingly so at home where she hopes to win her second African title.
Standing at 1.83m (6ft), Senegal’s poster girl made her debut in 2005 guiding her side to second place finish in Abuja, Nigeria. She was her side’s best performer averaging 13.3 points and six rebounds per game in six matches.
This is the moment a star was born – a memorable one indeed. This performance earned her a place in the Tournament Five.
However, Senegal lost the 2007 Final to Mali and Traore was not part of the Senegal side that won the 2009 title in Madagascar. Another heartbreak for Traore in 2011 as Senegal lost the final to Angola before finishing third two years later.
She was on the smiling end in 2015, finally winning her first African crown but these failures did not in any way halt her individual performances nevertheless.
She finally achieved her dream in 2015 when Senegal defeated hosts Cameroon 81-66 to win their record 12th FIBA Women’s AfroBasket title but it was Traore’s first and she will never forget the feeling. Defending this title became a nightmare when they lost to Nigeria 65-48 two years ago in Mali.
However, the 2019 edition presents an opportunity to correct all past mistakes and give the home fans their first home title at home since 1993 when Traore was only 12.
Traore, who won the Most Valuable Player award in 2017, is still Senegal’s best player averaging 15.8 points and 8.8 rebounds at this competition.
Leia Dongue (Mozambique)
Dongue is Mozambique’s best player over the past one decade and the numbers are there to tell half of the story and affirm her commitment to her nation.
The other half of the story is that her drive on court and ability to scare off opponents is what continuously has her name in the best players of every edition and the 2019 one is not any different.
Dongue made her FIBA Women’s AfroBasket debut as a teenager at 18 in 2009 and averaged 9.4 points as Mozambique finished sixth at the biennial competition to firmly introduce herself onto the African continent.
She has since played in four editions since her debut in 2011 and 2013 even though she missed out on the 2015 event in Yaounde, Cameroon before bouncing back in 2017 and 2019 where she led Mozambique to the Semi-Finals
She also was part of the Mozambique side that played at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2012 for Women in Ankara, Turkey but her side did not make it to the London 2012 Olympics.
Two years down the road, Dongue attained her dream of playing at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2014 in Turkey – a feat that will always be memorable to her playing at the world’s biggest stage.
Dongue is averaging 14.3 points and 7.8 rebounds at the ongoing edition in Dakar. She scored an incredible 25 points and picked nine rebounds to inspire Mozambique past Egypt 80-66 in the Quarter-Finals before inspiring her side to a near win over the hosts Senegal in a tightly contested Semi-Final that saw Senegal win 60-57 on Friday night.
Kani Kouyate (Cote d’Ivoire)
A shining star in a team that has earned its place among the best on the African continent, Kouyate has always given everything she has at the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket.
Kouyate, who is a sister to Mariama Kouyate that also features for Cote d’Ivoire, is the heart of the West African side. Her leadership on court brings the team together and like they say, experience cannot be bought but rather earned and with it comes experience.
This can visibly be seen when players from other teams meet her in the corridors of the magnificent Dakar Arena. Even where there is a language barrier be it Portuguese speaking players or Anglophones, respect is shown to one of a kind.
Her speed on the floor and great decision making speaks of a very experienced player that is playing a very key role as this youthful Cote d’Ivoire side continues to find a balance between the veteran and upcoming young players like Safietou Kolga, Mariam Gnanou, Irene Bognini and Hana Mabelle Amani.
Kouyate is averaging 10.6 points and seven rebounds so far at the tournament and even though Cote d’Ivoire have never won the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket, to feature at six editions missing out on the 2015 edition when her side failed to qualify at the hands of Nigeria.
Nevertheless, Kouyate has established her name among the greats that are playing high level basketball in Africa. When asked about retirement, Kouyate said she is far from it at the moment and still has a lot to offer.