It’s easy to ignite discussion in a bar or a chat room on who’s the greatest male basketball player that Rwanda has ever produced.
Aristide Mugabe or Hamza Ruhezamihigo? What about Robert Thomson and Lionel Hakizimana or Olivier Shyaka?
What about the female players?
That might be a more difficult conversation.
In most African countries, especially in the Sub-Saharan Africa, female basketball is undeniably lagging behind. It is actually rare to find countries with active women leagues in this particular sport.
Having said that, in Rwanda, the women’s league is composed of only five clubs, namely; APR, Ubumwe, The Hoops Rwanda, University of Rwanda, College of Arts and Social Sciences (UR-CASS) and IPRC-South.
Furthermore, it is only APR that give their players a monthly allowance, meaning players in other clubs play just because of the passion they have for the game and this remains a big problem to attract young talents to the sport.
Besides, the last time Rwanda had a national women team competing in an international competition was four years ago, during the 2013 AfroBasket qualifiers that took place in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
This and other challenges contribute to the total failure of female basketball not only in Rwanda, but most African countries, to compete at the same level as their male counterparts.
However, most of the times, the power of someone’s talent and passion is strong enough that at times you’re forced to follow what you are destined to do despite the hardships.
Several Rwandan female players have risen through the ranks to play basketball at a pretty high level and these include; Charlotte Umugwaneza (APR Women captain), Cisse Rosine Micyomyiza and Ritah Imanishimwe, who plays for Uganda Christian University (UCU).
In this issue Saturday Sport profiles the current top point guard in the local women’s league, Sandra Kantore. The 23-year-old star plays for APR and was appointed the team’s assistant captain in 2015.
Kantore, who is nicknamed ‘Do Me’, once featured for the Burundi national team.
Because she is based in Rwanda but can’t play for the national team, Kantore has concentrated on improving her club playing career. She confirmed having received several offers from regional clubs, but she has turned them down as her ‘ultimate dream’ is to play in the U.S.
Born on June 25, 1993 in Bujumbura, Burundi, to Oscar Nzaramyimana and Godelieve Ruratanditse, Kantore is the fourth born in the family of seven—four girls and three boys.
She attended her primary and ordinary level secondary education in Bujumbura, Burundi before returning to Rwanda in 2012, where she studied at Collège Ami des Enfants de Kinyinya for one year and later joined APE Rugunga where she completed her secondary education offering Mathematics Economics and Geography (MEG).
She is now waiting to join university. Despite being a basketball player, Kantore says she likes watching football more than her own sport, and is a fan of Spanish giants, Real Madrid.
The surprising story behind this young talent is that she started as a footballer and actually played at a high level. At the age of 12, she was playing in the Burundian women first division league for giants Ikirezi FC as a right winger.
“I think I was born a footballer, I started playing basketball at round the age of 14, but before then, I played football and loved it very much,” she recounted in an exclusive interview with Saturday Sport.
Kantore says she inherited the love for football from her father, who she says loves football so much and despite not playing at a high level, he was always involved in football activities where he was once a club president in Burundi.
She noted, “Football was a family sport and when I was 12, I was signed by Ikirezi FC and one time my mother came to watch us, and during the match, I was fouled on several occasions… she was terrified and when I reached home, she told me not to play football again and instead encouraged me to try another sport.”
At the time she never had any interest in basketball but had some friends who were playing basketball in Berco Stars.
“ So I started following them to training and at one time their coach convinced me to join,” she recalls.
Kantore, who says she always had a feeling that she must follow her mother’s advice, decided to learn the basics of the game theoretically before even joining.
“When I joined, the coach was impressed by my skills and immediately the club recruited me and I started playing in the reserve team in the second division. The following season (2011), I was promoted to the senior team.”
Kantore’s rise continued while in the senior team, and after her first season with Berco Stars, she was summoned to the Burundi national team that participated in the FIBA Africa Zone V Championships that were held in Kigali.
In 2012, her parents decided to bring her back to Rwanda to continue her studies. She joined Collège Ami des Enfants de Kinyinya and upon her arrival, APR head coach Charles Mbazumutima, who had been impressed with her performance in the Zone V, came running and the club signed her.
Since 2013, Kantore has led the army side to three league titles, three playoff titles, three Gisembe Memorial tournament and four Heroes’ Day tournament titles.
Apart from 2016, Kantore and APR have been regular participants in the FIBA-Africa Zone V Club Championships and has, year after year, turned down offers from regional clubs like United States International University (Kenya) as well as Uganda’s UCU.
In 2014, when the local basketball governing body, FERWABA, last awarded best players per position, Kantore was recognized as the best female point guard in the country.
Despite carrying Rwandan identification documents, Kantore has been denied a chance to play for Rwanda on grounds that she featured for Burundi, something that leaves her ‘frustrated.’
Best and worst moments
“Some of my best moments include; how I integrated and got signed by the most successful club in Burundi, Berco Stars in a very short time and while there, we didn’t taste any defeat, we were always winning.”
“My worst moment was in 2014 with APR, we lost against Ubumwe in the final of Gisembe Memorial tournament, I was very frustrated that I spent two days without eating,” she reveals.
Future plans and ambitions
“I dream of becoming the best player of our generation, I really want to play at a professional level, probably in the USA.”
How others describe her
APR head coach Charles Mbazumutima says she is a great player, very disciplined, a leader at the pitch and dangerous at making fast attacks. “Although she is not very good at defending but with her discipline, everything is achievable and I hope she has a bright future.”