SILALEI SHANI, BIRD STORY AGENCY
AS the sound of the final buzzer fills the Eduardo Mondlane University Gym in Maputo, the bench players and the coaches of Alexandria Sporting Club flood the floor to celebrate their unprecedented victory. In a corner, the team’s captain, Hagar Amer, takes a moment to herself.
Overcome with emotion, Amer weeps freely at what she and her team have achieved – for the first time in her country’s basketball history, an Egyptian club has just won the FIBA Africa Champions Cup for Women.
Amer is also named the tournament’s most valuable player (MVP) averaging 15 points and rebounds in six games.
At 6’1 (1.83 m) Amer is tall and powerful but not to the extent that would elicit double takes in the street. However, looks can be deceiving.
A master at the basics and with a scoring efficiency that got her noticed early on,, she became a household name in Egypt – and in basketball circles across Africa – when she helped Egypt to second place at the 2009 FIBA Africa U-16 Championship for Women in Bamako, Mali. She then went on to leave a mark on the world stage at the 2011 FIBA U-19 World Cup in Chile, becoming the second-highest-scoring player at the tournament.
Despite having been in the African basketball spotlight over the last decade, not much is known about Amer, off the court. bird story agency’s Silalei Shani got to find out more.
Where did your love of basketball begin, and how did you start playing?
I started playing basketball when I was four years old, at Alexandria Sporting Club – the club I currently play in. I was always on the court. The practice would finish, and I would still be on the court – trying new moves, watching what the older players would do, and trying to understand the game more. So, my passion started very early.
What do you love about the sport?
I love everything about this game. I believe I was born to love this game. It’s what I think about every day. I often think about the day I’ll stop playing because I’m 29 years old and don’t have much playing time left. Even after retirement, I’ll always do something related to basketball. I can never leave it. It’s my passion in life.
Why didn’t you pursue basketball scholarships abroad? Many in your place would have opted for that.
I was offered several scholarships when I finished as the 2nd top scorer in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Chile. I decided to go to Canada and got a visa. Everything was ready, but I got cold feet a week before travelling. I’m very much a homebody. I wanted to stay with my mother, stay at home, and play with my teammates. When I look back at that decision, I can’t say I have any regrets.
Have you ever been interested in playing professional basketball outside of Egypt?
I’m very interested in playing basketball outside. I haven’t even told my agent this. I haven’t told anyone this! But I’ve always wondered what I could accomplish as a basketball player outside of Egypt. Maybe one day, you never know.
What does it mean to you to be crowned the champions of the FIBA Africa Champions Cup, a first for Egypt?
I’ve always dreamt of having this moment with my team. It is the first time in Egyptian history that we have won this cup. It’s unbelievable. It’s the thing I’ve always dreamed of and worked so hard to do. Achieving this with my teammates and club is a dream come true.
What is your training routine like?
It’s hard. I like to put in extra work apart from practice which is 3-4 hours a day. I do gym work every day, five days a week, as well as conditioning, running and individual skill training. I like to put on my earphones and listen to music while improving my weak areas. For example, if I miss three shots from a particular place in a game the next day, I’m working on that. I would work on the counter if the defence figured out something I did. I’m always trying to improve myself.
How do you balance basketball and being a wife/ mother?
Of course, being a wife and a mother is very hard. I have a supportive husband. He tries and watches my games and supports me in every way. So, it’s hard, but it’s doable with an understanding husband and good time management. For most practices, my daughter is with me. My mother also helps me a lot.
Why did you take a 3-year break from basketball?
It was really hard on me. I had a terrible injury that led to my having surgery. I had a stress fracture in the 5th metatarsal in my leg. The following year I got married and pregnant. I thought I would never come back and never get back to how I used to play.
But when I decided I was coming back, I resolved that I would come back to the same level I used to play at or not at all. That’s what I told my coaches. Every day for a month and a half, it was five hours working on myself, running, conditioning, and working out at the gym. I never skipped a day. It was a challenge, but I was up to it.
What made you come back?
Basketball is in my blood. In the three years I stopped playing basketball, I wouldn’t pass by the court and watch games because it was too painful. I missed it a lot; it was my passion, yet I couldn’t do it. It was always in my mind that I wanted to come back, but I didn’t think that it was doable. But I was up to the challenge. I worked on myself, and God helped me achieve what I did.
How hard was it to get back into shape?
It was so, so hard! I was in a cast for a year and a half, and the following year and a half, I was pregnant and taking care of my baby. I didn’t move an inch for three years! I forgot how to run, to move, to lift.
Basketball came naturally to me, so returning to basketball was easy. It was returning to the
physical shape to be able to compete professionally.
What has been your most outstanding basketball achievement?
The first one is the Africa Cup Championship. To be able to win it with Alexandria Club and to be also named as the MVP. The second one was the Under-18 African championship in Egypt. It was also the first time Egypt won a gold medal at any championship, so it was also history. The third was being named the 2nd top scorer at the Under-19 World Cup in Chile.
Does anyone else in your family play basketball?
I have a younger brother, Hassan Amer, who also plays number 14. He won first place in the U-16 Africa Championship in Egypt and will attend the World Cup next year. He will also be in the U-19 national team competing in the World Cup next year. He is one of my biggest supporters, and I’m his. I go to his games, and we play one-on-one. He is one of the reasons that I came back to basketball.
What would you attribute the success of Sporting Alexandria to?
The club’s management has played a significant role in achieving that— the players they recruit and the coaching staff too.
What would you attribute your success to?
Honestly, it’s my mother. She’s my backbone. She never left my side, helping with my daughter, my house, my schedule, and everything. My husband and my father have also been extremely supportive. Now that I think about it, we are a very loving basketball family. They are always cheering me on, helping me and trying to support me every step of my life’s journey.
- Silalei Shani is a former captain of the Kenya woman’s basketball team and is a basketball presenter, writer, commentator, player and coach.