American Dream; tale of Irene Were, a budding Kenyan basketball talent

American Dream; tale of Irene Were, a budding Kenyan basketball talent

 Here and There, by  Dennis Kamariki

For basketball prodigy Irene Were, the stars have aligned and she could be the biggest thing in the game.

Last year, she was just an ordinary student at Butere Girls High School but her basketball talent unlocked a door of opportunity that could soon see her become a recognizable face in the game, in just in Kenya, but probably across the globe.

Her outstanding talent earned her a scholarship from the Urban Discovery Ministries (UDM) to study in the land of opportunities, the United States of America where she is currently in grade 11 at Norfolk Christian High School in the state of Virginia.

Apart from her razor-sharp book brains, Were is a star in the making and this was discernible during her days at Butere Girls where she awed many with her basketball skills catching the eye of UDM, a church based organization which did not hesitate to offer her the scholarship, a platform to sharpen her skills further under the best talent-nurturing coaches.

But how did she land the once in a lifetime opportunity?

So the story goes. Sometime in 2019, there was a coaching clinic dubbed First Coach that was held at Shauri Moyo Baptist in Nairobi organized by Coach Everlyne Kedogo from Kenya and Coach Mike Farris from the United States.

At this event, Irene happened to have been one of the models together with Michelle Mmbone Luhunga – meaning they were demonstrating what the coach was teaching.

Impressed by their skills, the coaches rubber-stamped a scholarship deal for them, and just like that they flew to the land of opportunities! Fate, you may say.

Fast-forward, Were who turns out for her basketball team in the US prays that she gets a college scholarship to advance her studies upon graduating from high school.

Love for the game

Apart from her coaches, the National Basketball Association (NBA) league in America motivated her to get interested in the game after watching the NBA games on YouTube.

Stints in the internet watching the game would touch off a burning desire and there was no looking back. In fact, at Butere, the zeal just got louder if not stronger.

“I was motivated by Coach Everlyn Kedogo and Butere Girls coach Sylvester Odo who saw the passion, hard work and the potential,” she explained.

In each and every game I played they used to come to watch me and they could correct me when I made the wrong moves or even tell me what to do and that inspired me more and made me want to know more about the game,” Were narrates.

Having seemingly settled in the US, Irene is quick to admit that the system allows talents to flourish at her current address.

“Truth be told this place you find everything but remember you cannot pick what you want from the road or on the ground. You just have to work extra harder to get what you want and that is what we call life,” she adds.

Were’s dream is to play for the Kenya’s women national team and also feature in the Women’s National Basketball Association League in the United States.

Were’s dream is to play for the Kenya’s women national team and also feature in the Women’s National Basketball Association League in the United States. PHOTO/Courtesy/Axsom Photography

But she is not just a juggler of the ball in the court. Academic excellence seems to be her way of life too and she reckons a career in Accounting once she graduates from high school is high on the cards.

That would mean juggling the books and the basketball ball in the court, but with discipline, it’s a challenge she is adept to.

“I would like to encourage all the girls outside there that discipline, determination and trust are very important in someone’s success journey. No matter what is on your table today, make sure you make it better tomorrow by striving and working hard for nothing good comes when you relax or give up,” she said.

As many consider basketball in the USA to be much different from Kenya, Were has a differing opinion.

“Basketball is basketball no matter where it is played. The only difference is the work you put in it… Kenya has the potential of playing at the top level. No matter the platform you have, it all starts with the mind-set and your heart,” she adds.

And like everyone else she has been hit hard and inconvenienced by the Corona virus pandemic that has ravaged global economies, at one time shutting global sports.

And being thousands of miles away, in a foreign land, means that she misses her loved ones back in Kenya.

To deal with homesick, the tech-savvy Were has been in constant touch with her family via video platforms such as Zoom and social media app Whats App

“At first it(moving to the US) affected me for I was always homesick most of the nights but after meeting new family, friends and teachers who are so friendly and loving, I was convinced on what my dream was and how I wanted it to benefit my family so much so that I became strong and happy and ready to put my hard work in anything I do,” she concludes.