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“We come together as a family in basketball,” says Tayra Zonn

Pocket rocket Zonn hitting the heights

Pocket rocket Zonn hitting the heights

By GARY LEMKE in Lilongwe

Behind the main structure of the 21 000-capacity Silver Stadium, which is home to Malawi Premier Division football club Silver Strikers, is a netball court, and next to that a basketball court. It was between these two courts that Tayra Zonn was sitting on the floor in animated discussion with her teammates at the end of a 9-6 defeat to Zambia in a 3×3 girls under-15 basketball match at these Region V Games on Friday.

As Bontle Mokoatle, Aluto Gqotso and Cleo Khongolo listened to their captain, it was clear that they were all here to learn from the experience. There was no finger pointing, no emotional recriminations. Just a group chat with four under-15 basketballers who know that while winning is the main thing, it’s not the only thing. “We come together as a family in basketball,” says Zonn. “We keep our heads held up high even when we lose.”

Zonn, like many of Team SA’s 200-plus athletes in Malawi, is having a first taste of international experience. Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a first step and every match is a steep learning curve. She comes from the tough Cape Town community of Heideveld and like so many from the impoverished area she counts her blessings on a daily basis.

“Yes, there’s a lot of violence where we are,” she says matter-of-factly. “Every day there are gun shots going off while we’re at school (at Heideveld Secondary), but my friends and I either use our spare time to play basketball, or we stay indoors at home.”

She used to also play football, banging in the goals for Junction Rovers, but it’s basketball which has secured her talent and her dreams. “I grew up with a lot of boys who played a lot of basketball,” she says of how the bug bit. “I played with them and quickly became competitive, because I didn’t want to have to sit on one side of the court while they played.”

Now she is considered one of the brightest young basketball talents in the country, as Team SA coach Thesline Davids attests. “I am now at the University of Pretoria, but spent most of my time in Cape Town and have seen quite a bit of Tayla. She’s really up there with some of the most promising young talent I’ve come across.”

Zonn, who plays basketball for her school and also Heideveld Basketball Club, is a stocky left-hander who sees both attributes as a positive. “As a left-hander it’s difficult for opponents to defend against me as they’re so used to playing against right-handers. And although I’m short, I am a hard worker and I put my head down and I’m not scared of the physical side of basketball.”

When she was selected for her first international trip, she says that her mom and dad were “very proud. They believed in me, but for me, being one of the shortest players, it took a while to sink in. But. wearing the green and gold is a dream come true. I want to become a better player and I want to represent South Africa a lot more in the future.”

She looks sure to do just that, and with more representation there will be a lot more flying in future as well. This trip to Malawi was the first time she has ever been on a plane. “From Cape Town to Johannesburg and then from Johannesburg to Lilongwe. Yoh! I was so nervous before the trip thinking something might go wrong but I didn’t want to think negatively. I really enjoyed the going up (take-offs), and the landings. Those were the best parts. Once we were up in the air you couldn’t feel anything.”

Zonn trains most days and says she runs every day on the beach. “And then I run to school and around the block five times every day. My school is from 7am-3pm and then I rest until 4, and then practice at 4.30. I am proud of myself but I do get nervous and I listen to piano music to calm me down when I’m stressed.”

She doesn’t need to stress. Her young career is on the right trajectory and she’s going to be hitting plenty of high notes herself going forward.

Ladies, Basketball, Press Releases, SA Team

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