SFU men’s basketball’s Bongani Moyo talks about his journey into the NCAA

A sit-down with one of SFU’s most inspiring characters

After three years trying, Moyo made the SFU men's basketball team as a walk-on. (Chris Ho / The Peak)

By: Shepard Kanyekanye

Year: Senior

Hometown: Harare, Zimbabwe

Major: Finance and Marketing

Bongani Moyo, an active player on the SFU men’s basketball team, is currently in his fifth year and looking to graduate this spring. His basketball journey, although seemingly coming to an end here at SFU, is one that has come with its fair share of challenges as well as life lessons that anyone with a goal can use for inspiration.

These lessons particularly came from Bongani’s basketball journey, where having no name, game footage, or respectable references — all things that today’s NCAA requires for teams to even consider you — led him to defy the status quo by suiting up to play valuable minutes. He has fit perfectly into his role on the team simply due to him being stubborn when told “no,” has been wise enough to ask coaches how he could improve, and has allowed a supporting cast of people to speak the impossible into his life.

The Peak: Who would you say is the most influential person in your life?

Bongani Moyo: I have a couple — obviously my parents, my brother and my high school coach are pretty influential to me. I’ve had a lot of coaches that have definitely influenced me in high school. Whether it be basketball, golf or hockey I’d say they all contributed in moments of my life.

P: So you developed your love for basketball back in high school right? With your coaches. How did these coaches help you build that passion and love for basketball?

BM: The best way to describe it is that they let me do me and they had a lot of confidence in me, which helped me gain confidence in myself; so they never tried to hold me back or stop me from doing anything. It was more like okay, do this, and if I messed up, yeah, I messed up, and they would be like, “Hey, you messed up and this is why you messed up, next time try to do this,” instead of them saying “Hey, don’t do this.”

P: That’s interesting; can you tell us about your story on how you came from the basketball system in Zimbabwe to wanting to get into the NCAA system?

BM: When I got here, the first thing I did — like, in the first week — was that I spoke to the coach. I asked, hey, are you guys hosting any tryouts? [ . . . ] That year, which was the 2014–2015 season, [the team] had a 22 [man] roster. He basically said, “We’d have no space for you,” and I was like, okay, fair enough, it is what it is.

The second year, that coach left and it was a new coach that was coming in, and he was coming in with a bunch of new players so I figured that would be my chance to try out. So I spoke to him and he was like, yeah, for sure, come down. We’ll give you a week, you can practise with us, and then that can be your one-week trial to see whether you could fit into our system or not.

After a week, he basically pulled me into his office and said, hey, as much as we like the way you play, etc. we don’t think that you are able to help us right now [ . . . ] You’re close, but not close enough; sorry, but we can’t take you on.

I was like, fair enough, that’s fine, and I asked him during that same conversation if there was anything that I could do between now and next season to kind of improve.

Fast-forward to the end of the season. That coach also leaves, and the assistant coach gets promoted to the head coach. So I messaged the assistant coach afterwards, and I was like, hey, you guys are doing post-season training now — would it be okay if I came and trained with you guys during the postseason just so that I can get a feel of what level I need to get up to; to see if I can play with these guys? And he was like, yeah, for sure.

So I trained with those guys for about two weeks, and then one day I got an email from the assistant coach offering me a position on the team and I was like, hell yeah, I’ll take it! That’s what I’ve been working for this entire time. So it was pretty cool: the journey and the process.

P: You spoke about how you asked the coaches here at SFU where to improve in terms of your game. Could you go into more detail on what they pointed out?

BM: I would say the biggest thing was my basketball knowledge. Coming from Zimbabwe, basketball isn’t that great. North America is where basketball lives, so the people are far more developed coming out of high school than we are, making it a lot tougher. For example, the stuff that we are learning at 17 and 18 years old is the stuff they are learning when they’re 13 and 14 years old. So they have that much more time to polish and start [reading] the game better as opposed to just learning how to play, which is what I was still doing.

P: Were there ever people along your journey — teammates, students — that kept you going along the way?

BM: Oh definitely! My first team high school coach [Eric Banda], I still talk to him, like the times I’ll have a bad game and explain to him why I played badly, to which he would give me his own two cents on what he thinks I need to do better. Obviously, my teammates are just amazing, everyone’s uplifting even if you play terribly and coach rips your head off; everyone is just like “Listen, man, don’t worry about it, it’s all good. Just keep doing you,” which I think is great.

P: Could you take me through your first game here at Simon Fraser University?

BM: So it was at home… against Douglas, which was a pretty decent team. I had been sitting on the bench most of the game, you know, obviously coach kind of had his people, he knew who his main guys were and I wasn’t one them, which is fine, because I wasn’t good enough at the time.

So I’m on the bench, got my call up, and went on super scared! I was like a deer in headlights just because everyone on the court looked so comfortable and I was not, which made me even more uncomfortable. But I just tried my best to do what coach was asking and just contribute to the team.

Athlete’s Corner

To anyone with any goals or aspirations, don’t let failure discourage and demoralize you. I can guarantee that the most successful people have all experienced failure before, but the difference is the way they responded to failure. I implore everyone reading this to look at their failures as a source of inspiration and motivation, rather than a deterrent from trying again.

You aren’t defined by your failures; I know that the fear of failure can sometimes be overwhelming, but I’ve found that the fear of failure pales in comparison to the feeling of regret. So don’t let failure hold you back from doing what you want to do, after all, the only true failure is when you stop trying.