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Gloria Umeh: I didn’t know anything about basketball until I was asked to try it

Plateau Rocks forward, Gloria Umeh, talks playing basketball in the North, how she got in the game, why she turned down offers to play abroad…

Plateau Rocks forward, Gloria Umeh, talks playing basketball in the North, how she got in the game, why she turned down offers to play abroad and refusing to falsify her age to play at a higher level.


When did you start playing basketball and what led you to the game?

I started playing in June 2002. I finished my secondary school in September 2001, then started going to my mom’s shop at Terminus Market.

Then some basketballers came there to do something and they saw me and were interested in my height. They encouraged me to start playing basketball.

Until then, I never heard of it. Two months later, I met my dad’s friends who came back from the USA.

They encouraged him to allow me to play because of my height.

So, my dad bought me some basketball gear and my cousin introduced me to the coach at the stadium and that’s how my journey began!

What are the challenges you have faced so far in your career?

One challenge is that I play in the North, especially Jos.

I have not always had the opportunities that others from other regions had, until recently.

We have faced some form of bias or regional segregation.

Also, the lack of funds for our competitions as well as sometimes playing without a complete team. These have been the major challenges I have faced.

Can you recollect some fond memories and those games you lost that made you feel bad?

I have some fond memories and some bad ones. There were some games we won just in time.

We were down from the beginning but got up to win the game at the last second.

I also remember a fiery game we played with the Nigeria Air Force two seasons ago.

The whole gym was agog because we were going head to head with them, we had to go into extra time but finally lost by two points in the last five seconds. But it was an extraordinary game.

But I remember one heart-wrenching game we played with the Nigeria Customs in Lagos years ago.

We were going head to head with them but in the final quarter, eight seconds to go, we were leading by two points.

We were so excited and very sure of the win. We had the possession, all we needed to do was hold the ball for eight seconds, but we caused a very unreasonable turnover.

They took the ball at three seconds to go, and Theresa bounced the ball to the half-court and shot a gbosa shot and game over, they won by one point. I wept like a baby.

How are you combining education with sports?

I started playing basketball before I got admitted into the University, (ATBU, Bauchi).

The school is a very hard place to study, very serious. But because of my passion for basketball and with the advice and help of some senior players like Stanley Gumut and Terungwa,

I was able to combine both academics and basketball. I have to point out here that my team (Plateau Rocks) were very understanding because I had to miss some competitions, maybe during exams, but all in all, I coped very well.

Have you ever been invited to any of the national teams?

Yes, I have been invited to the National Team for the Olympics Qualifying Tournament, All African Games and also for FIBA 3×3.

During the lockdown, there were no sporting activities. How did you keep fit and what is your training regime like?

During the lockdown, it was harder for us in Jos, especially those who train at the stadium because the restrictions were very severe so there was no way we could just train even when the lockdown was eased until the government lifted the ban on contact sports.

I began to run on my own during the lockdown but I must confess that it wasn’t easy, since there was no motivation and no end in sight for the lockdown at the time.

Looking at the crisis in the league, what do you think can be done to resolve the matter and get the league running again?

The Crisis is so unfortunate since the local league has really suffered and the players have always been at the receiving end of the fallouts.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I know that for it to be resolved, every personal difference and hurt and anger must be put aside if the stakeholders really want the game to grow.

All hands must be on deck for this to be resolved, so I wish that all stakeholders both home and abroad, young and old, must come together and look into this matter to find a way forward

How many medals have you won in your entire career so far?

I have won about four medals.

Most basketballers want to play in Europe, do you dream of such a move?

I had the opportunity of travelling abroad but then, I was in 400 level.

It was either I quit school and go abroad or I forfeit the trip. I couldn’t imagine throwing away all my hard work in school so, I forgot about the offer.

Another major reason why I lost the desire to travel was the age issue.

Nobody wants you if you use your real age and I have promised never to change my age for anything or for anybody because of my belief and convictions.

So, that is a big deterrent to agents.

Ever played for a club outside Nigeria?

No, I have never played for any club outside Nigeria, I once had an opportunity to play for Energie, the Benin Republic National team, but I had passport issues.

Mine wasn’t stamped at the border because of some error on our part, so, I couldn’t play.

Can you share your dreams and aspirations for the year? What do you look forward to?

My dreams and aspirations this year is for the NBBF crisis to be resolved as soon as possible so that the games (both for men and women) will resume immediately.

Many of us look forward to the season each year and it breaks our hearts when these issues keep hindering the games.

We are not getting younger you know, and the women especially have limited time in this game.

I look forward to the resumption of the season and competitions because if we don’t compete then, what are we training for?

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