Basketballer RITAH IMANISHIMWE was introduced to basketball in Senior one. Ever since, the talent has earned her full bursaries to date, Fred Hidula writes.
Ritah, a third-year student of a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication at Uganda Christian University (UCU) was born on June 12, 1996 in Karusandara, Kasese, to Jackson Rugwiza and Evans Nyirakubanza.
The sixth born of eight sisters attended Kiwuliriza primary school in Kisugu, before joining Crane High School for both her O and A-levels of education.
While in third term of S1, Imanishimwe was identified by Julius Lutwama, who is the current coach for Nkumba Lady Marines.
“I was energetic and never scared to take risks, though I was the smallest on the team at that time,” she says.
Imanishimwe says she was further inspired to play the game when the school gave her a full bursary upon joining the team.
She started reaping the benefit of her hard work in 2010 when Crane High joined the basketball league lower division. It was from here that she was named both the most valuable player and top scorer of the season.
JOINING LADY CANONS
In 2013 while playing in a national tournament in Mbarara, the then UCU director of student affairs, Rev Milton Tweheyo, spoted her. Tweheyo was helped by then coach Boniface Okello and Harriet Lubowa, a Canons player at the time.
Impressed by her performance, Tweheyo met her parents and requested her to go for trials at the university.
“I spent part of my vacation at the university on trials as I waited for my results,” Imanishimwe says.
She was recruited after impressing in her trials, and in 2014 together with her high school friend and current teammate Sarah Ageno, the pair was recruited into the Lady Canons team amid tense pressure on them to impress further.
“I was going to play in an elite league different from high school tournaments. This piled pressure on my shoulders, although I was ready for the new challenge,” she says.
She has developed as a player. Currently, she is Lady Canons’ shooting guard and assistant captain deputizing Vilma Achieng.
Watching her on court, Imanishimwe is very good on shooting the ball, driving it forward and her defense is quite better than her offensive play.
She first played as a three man before being turned into a two man (shooting guard) for het team. She decries poor ball handling as her greatest weakness.
BALANCING ACADEMICS AND SPORTS
In February, Imanishimwe got her breakthrough to the national women’s basketball team, the Gazelles, after passing the trials to take part in the Afro Zone V basketball qualifiers in Egypt in March. This is an exposure she is forever grateful for because it improved her as a player.
She, however, says that over time she has learnt to juggle studies and sporting by being in the right place at the right time.
She praises the environment that has good facilities including courts and a gym plus the academic institution that has molded her into a better player.
Playing with teammates such as Sarah Ageno, Rosine Micomyiza and Judith Nansobya has helped her improve her game, she says.
Imanishimwe is slated to graduate early next year. Currently, she is on a full scholarship that includes meals, accommodation, full tuition, medical care plus attire for training – a privilege she has had from her Senior one.
The 21-year-old is no ordinary player. A year after joining her current team in 2015, she won the National Basketball league title with the Lady Canons.
Last year, she was also an integral part of the team that won the East Africa University Games women’s title at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Imanishimwe has won bronze with the Lady Canons this year after finishing third in the recently concluded Zone V championships in Kampala.
She was also part of the World University Games in Taipei, China, representing the country early this year. In April, together with teammates Racheal Muwanguzi, Zaina Angella Lokwameri and skipper Vilma Achieng, the Lady Canons settled for silver in the Federation of Africa University Sports (FASU) three-on-three (3x3) All Africa Championships held at the United States International University (USIU), Nairobi.
One of her biggest challenges, she admits, is getting stuck with the shooting and forgetting other game beats. Captain Achieng describes Imanishimwe as a hardworking and strong-willed athlete.
“She is that one teammate you need whenever you want to win a game,” Achieng says.
Imanishimwe, however, plans on joining another club next season to try out a new challenge. But prior to that, her wish is to win another league title with the Lady Canons this season.
She also wants to enroll for a short course in photography and videography. Nicholas Natuhereza, the Lady Canons coach, says Imanishimwe was instrumental in helping the team retain last season’s league title in the finals against archrivals KCCA Leopards.
“She also had a great game 6 in 2015 finals which was the close-out game,” he says, adding that Imanishimwe played well in Zone V despite narrowly losing the trophy.
With her passion for the game, Natuhereza believes Imanishimwe has solid potential to become a much better player.
“Not forgetting that she made it to the national team this year,” he adds.