Rena Wakama of Nigeria has became the first female coach to win the women’s AfroBasket tournament final. She guided her team to an 84-74 victory over Senegal in front of a massive crowd in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
According to the BBC, the AfroBasket title is Nigeria’s fourth in a row, but it is Wakama’s first. Nigeria has now matched Senegal’s record of four titles since the games began in the 1970s.
“It has been a long year for me. I asked God for a sign, and this trophy was the biggest of them all,” Wakama is quoted by the BBC.
Nigeria jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter. This was threatened later when the Senegal side racked up points, but not enough to close the gap with the opposite side. Ifanya Okoro led Nigeria in scoring with 16 points.Ciarra Dillard of Senegal outscored her by three points. Mali defeated hosts Rwanda 89-52 in the third-fourth place play-off.
Coach Wakama emerged as a refreshing and historic change in the male-dominated environment of women’s basketball in Africa for the last 57 years. Despite having been appointed less than a month before the Rwanda tournament, she demonstrated exceptional intellect and prowess.
Wakama’s career as a player began in 2015, when she joined Nigeria’s D’Tigress squad soon after graduating from college. Her playing career was brief but impactful, culminating with a third-place finish in the 2015 Women’s AfroBasket competition in Cameroon. Her name was notably missed off the squad roster owing to a registration deadline blunder. According to The Cable, she then turned to coaching, motivated by a love she identified early on.
Her coaching career began at Manhattan College, where she was the director of women’s basketball operations before becoming an assistant coach. This experience led to her hiring as the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Stony Brook.
Her most notable triumph, however, came when she was named head coach of Nigeria’s D’Tigress squad, following the seasoned Otis Hughley. Given Hughley’s track record of leading the team to three consecutive AfroBasket titles, this choice was met with criticism. Furthermore, Wakama faced the difficult task of preparing the team for the 2023 AfroBasket in a short period of time.
The Nigerian Basketball Federation planned open tryouts ahead of the competition to scout fresh players for the squad, which provoked outrage among established D’Tigress players. Some elected not to go, and a couple even declared their retirement, causing vital players to be left off the final roster.
Despite these obstacles, Wakama guided her new team to an unexpected and flawless run at AfroBasket. Victories over the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Mozambique, and Rwanda secured the team’s position in the final. Wakama therefore achieved two historic firsts: she was the first female coach to guide a team to the AfroBasket final and then win the competition.