I owe my country a valuable medal– Hakizimana

Basketball is one of few sports in Rwanda that has shown signs of consistence.  Rwanda teams, clubs and national sides  have been permanent fixtures for the past seven years  on local, regional and international basketball calendar.
       Lionnel Hakizimana has eyes set on achieving something of value with the Rwanda national team. Saturday Sport / Courtesy.
Lionnel Hakizimana has eyes set on achieving something of value with the Rwanda national team. Saturday Sport / Courtesy.

Basketball is one of few sports in Rwanda that has shown signs of consistence.  Rwanda teams, clubs and national sides  have been permanent fixtures for the past seven years  on local, regional and international basketball calendar.

The game has gone through ups and downs over the years, especially in top management at the federation level. But  one thing that has remained constant- clubs or national teams have been  qualifying for Africa’s biggest competitions.

In the same period, Rwandan basketball has seen big and small names come and go for both clubs and the country. One of the top names on the scene currently is Lionel Hakizimana.

The Espoir basketball club and senior national team small forward is undoubtedly one of top players in the national league after helping his side end the league unbeaten. He returned to Espoir this season after spending two seasons with archrivals, APR BBC.

The national team star was born on December 18, 1992 in Ngagara district, Burundi to Bernard Hakizimana and Veddy Mukanzayire, who both passed away in car accident when he was barely two years old. Hakizimana has one sibling, his elder sister, Bella Naivasha.

In an exclusive interview with Saturday Sport, the jovial small forward was forthcoming with his answers, but one thing he is very categorical about is his aunt Dafrose Ndakoze, who has made him the person he is today.

Ndokoze, raised him and his elder sister after the tragic death of their parents when they were only two and four years old respectively.

The locally nicknamed ‘Kobe’, Hakizimana attended Ecole Primaire Anglais Francais (ESCAF) and then joined Nyanza District-based College du Christ Roi for his high school between 2003 to 2008 before enrolling at Kigali independent University (ULK) where he will  graduate from  next January with a Bachelors degree in International Relations.

Hakizimana admires the San Antonio’s NBA star Tony Parker and regards his maternal Uncle, Deo Gakuba as his role model, for inspiring and encouraging him to play the game.

Early days

Hakizimana, who turns 21 in December, was passionate about football from his childhood. He actively played it  until when he was in senior two in 2004.  As a result of peer pressure from his basketball-playing close friends, he moved from football and started playing basketball.

Since then, as they say, the rest is history as he has gone on to become one of the country’s big stars albeit at a younger age.

The multi-talented Hakizimana did not take long to master the basketball court. After joining the sport he led this school’s O’level basketball team to three Inter-schools’ championship titles between 2004 and 2006.

Unstable

Since joining Espoir in 2007 as a senior five student, the 20-year-old has not stayed at one club for more than two seasons.

He played for Espoir from 2007 to 2010, the following year, he featured for then newly-formed Cercle Sportif de Kigali (CSK) from where he moved to three-time Fiba Africa Zone V champions APR in 2012 and in May this year, he re-joined Espoir.

Despite the regular switching of clubs, he has remained consistent in his performances; he has been an outstanding player for every club he  has played for. 

Achievements

The former CSK and APR player has had a fairly successful career. He captained Christ Roi Ordinary Level team to win three South Province inter-schools’ championship and led the advanced level team to semi-finals or finals on different occasions in the national inter-schools’ championships.

After six years in the national basketball championship, Hakizimana has never won the league title with either of his clubs, but in 2011 he helped CSK to win the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi memorial tournament dubbed ‘Gisembe memorial tourney’.

He also helped Espoir to finish second, behind winners Urunani of Burundi in this year’s Fiba Africa zone five championships staged in Bujumbura from August 5 to 10.

He has been to several African countries including; Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique and Ivory Coast among others either with local league clubs or the national basketball team in different tournaments.

Hakizimana holds the award for the top scorer at the 2010 Under-18 African basketball Championships held in Rwanda when he first announced his real arrival on the big stage.

Hakizimana in national teams


The light-skinned small forward was first called to the junior national team in 2009 and he went on to help the team to finish sixth at the Under-18 African basketball championships held in Kigali, in 2010. Egypt claimed the title after beating archrivals Tunisia 67-54 in the final.

In 2011, Hakizimana got his first call to the senior national team to prepare for the Fiba Africa Zone V and Fiba-Afrobasket Championships but he did not appear in the final squads for either competition.

But after two impressive seasons with APR, the former Ecole Primaire Anglais Francais pupil caught the eye of the national coach Moize Mutokambali.

He was part of the senior team that finished second behind Egypt in the Zone Five Championships held in Tanzania and the team that finished tenth at the just concluded Fiba- Afrobasket Championships won by Angola in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

The dream

“I always feel like I owe something to my country, I want to win a medal of high value with the national (basketball) team and I hope I will realise that dream soon or later. It’s my dream before I retire from playing the game,” he confesses.

On playing at the professional level, Hakizimana would love to play abroad but not in the United States, “I am ambitious and part of my ambition  involves dreaming about playing at the highest level possible, but if given an opportunity to choose, I would choose playing for a top team in the European league.”

Asked what he plans to do after quitting playing, he said, “I would love to go into a different work-fields or businesses but not coaching.”

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