LERIBE - Trauma could not break him physically, neither could it mentally. His relationships with other people are testimony to a better appreciation of life, and a new outlook on possibilities.
Feb. 28, 2022
5 min read
Trauma could not break me – Mpho “Stoudemire” Lesitsi
The sensational basketball player, Mpho “Stoudemire” Lesitsi
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This is a story of a sensational basketball player, Mpho “Stoudemire” Lesitsi, who co-owns Tornado 98ers that play in the National Basketball League (NBL).
The 27-year-old from St Monica’s, Leribe, says he endured tough times early in life, a version of himself he never knew existed.
“The challenges built my character to become a more accepting person,” Lesitsi says.
“No one would want the experience of losing both parents. No one would want to get robbed at gunpoint - both of these things have happened to me.”
“My mother - a single parent - died just the day before I started writing my high school leaving exams in 2012. I couldn’t read books; I became a very upset teenager. Mind you I was amongst the best learners at school but I obtained a 3rd Class pass at the end.”
But Lesitsi’s love for sports kept him going.
“I learnt to focus my energy on spending most of my time playing various sports ranging from tennis, volleyball, cricket, taekwondo, soccer and basketball - my favourite pastime,” he says.
His basketball career started when he arrived at the Sacred High School in Maputsoe in 2008, immediately joining the school team as the youngest member of the club.
“I also doubled as the team’s caretaker coach,” he says.
Lesitsi says he put up an outstanding performance as a lead player and believes that gained them promotion in 2012 when he was also selected to lead the team as its captain.
“In one tournament I was elected as the Most Valuable Player,” he recalls.
Finishing high school, Lesitsi did not play at development level but went straight ahead to the A League and joined Buffalos, a Maputsoe based outfit together with another club, Metsoalle.
“That was before I proceeded to NUL (National University of Lesotho) where I became a household name for the varsity team, Rovers,” he says.
“Playing for the elite team gave me much experience and exposed me to international games. How could I forget the year we clinched gold metals during the intervarsity games in Botswana? I was the team Captain and at that time I was at the top of my career as a sports person.”
As much as Lesitsi saw opportunities in basketball, including being privileged to travel the world, obtaining good education has always been more important.
“I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps”, he says.
His late grandfather, whom he regarded as his father - Moeketsi Albinus Lesitsi - had been his inspiration and personal mentor.
A renowned teacher and author of Sesotho books, Seemahale and Monamoli, Moeketsi Lesitsi died soon after the family celebrated his grandson’s graduation at NUL in 2018.
After obtaining a degree in Statistics and Demography that year, Lesitsi’s grandfather passed away in February 2019 before he could complete his third book, Mosehlelong.
“I’m disappointed because he never lived to see my full potential as a successful person,” he says.
“I have persisted to complete my studies so I would have something to fall back on at the end of my basketball career. It is important to tell youngsters about the importance of combining both education and sports.”
Voted the Sportsman of the year for the NUL Champions Awards in 2018, the muscular 1.79 meters tall Lesitsi argues that basketball players need not be the tallest people.
“While height could be an advantage, the sport requires mainly skill to outplay even the tallest competitors,” he argues.
In 2019, Lesitsi decided to own a basketball club and together with a friend, Tšeole Kojana, founded Tornado 98ers.
Built with players picked from the NUL team and other local clubs, Lesitsi says it was not much of a hassle for the new team to play in the NBL because it boasted of highly experienced players.
Quickly making its presence felt, the club headed for the 2019/20 finals that were postponed to December 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tornados 98ers ended the race as runners up and silver medalists after they were defeated by the reigning champions, Lerotholi Polytechnic,” Lesitsi says.
“I was celebrating many achievements at this point in my life. My team was impressive and I got a job at the Baylor College of Medicine working as a Records Assistant at the Tsime Health Centre.”
But before all that phase of victories, Lesitsi he had experienced a string of misfortunes.
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On August 18, 2019 his first car was written-off in a road accident in Maputsoe.
The same year in December, he bought a Golf 5 GTI which was hijacked on June 26, 2021 at gunpoint in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
“It was a very dramatic moment that negatively affected me mentally, emotionally and financially as the Golf was no match at drag racing bets where I made lots of money,” Lesitsi recalls.
“I began to wonder why do so many bad things were happening to me? Against all odds, however, I focused my energy on the good part of life and continued to be there for my family.”
Now married with a son, the elite national basketball player says it was a period in his life when he learnt the phrase: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It really does ring true,” he says.
Lesitsi has since bought two more cars but sold them away.
“Tough times help you discover what really matters to you and what doesn’t,” he says. “I have learnt to prioritise family, friends and career. Things that matter the most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter the least.
“I realise what’s really important to me, what I really care about, and what I’m passionate about.”