USVI Coach Ngongba Aims To ‘Invest In The Islands Beyond Just Basketball’
MIAMI — It has been a fast and amazing first few months of 2021 for the Virgin Islands Women’s National Team head coach Tajama Abraham Ngongba.
In March she was selected to lead the women’s program for the second time on her home islands. Soon after, eight days to be exact, her team began qualifying for the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup 2021 Tournament in Puerto Rico earning the silver medal in the FIBA Women’s CentroBasket tournament losing only to eventual champion Puerto Rico by four-points in their first game. Finally, in May she was hired as an assistant coach for Georgetown University in Washington DC.
“I’ve worked with the national team before, but I’ve always had two weeks,” Abraham Ngongba said from her home in Virginia. “For those girls to come in and work their behinds off and buy into what we were teaching, which was to have the best chemistry possible, play the best defense possible and work hard on the boards, keeping things simple going into El Salvador – those things got us the results we needed. Hopefully that trust and that excitement and energy propel us in the next round.”
Aside from the X’s and O’s taught by the St. Croix native, it is this kind of leadership and experience Federation President Earl Baker Sr. and the Virgin Islands Olympic Committee leaned on when they made the choice to bring back a familiar voice and presence to the women’s national team. A head coach who served in the same capacity from 2011-2014 but also a former captain as a player. A native daughter who excelled on and off the court and a native daughter who looks like her players and who has dreamed their dreams.
“I give the Federation a lot of credit. We have new leadership, and they just want the best for basketball in the Virgin Islands for both the women’s and men’s sides. They wanted someone to come in that could really relate and connect with the girls not only because she coached in the program, but because she was a player in the program as well. I played on the national team, and I coached on the junior team. I’ve worked my way up in the program. I do think that was important for the Federation. Building chemistry within the program and building trust matters. When we have asked for something, they have provided it. It shows their commitment which is invaluable.”
That trust helped Abraham Ngongba’s squad qualify for June’s tournament, but it goes much further than that. It reaches girls much younger with a dream to wear their homes flag and colors. It also reaches beyond basketball.
“I think it’s important that they see someone that looks like they do. Who has had their walk, that understands what you need in the moment during an adverse situation. I think that’s huge. I’m very honored to be able to come back and be a part of this. I’m so thankful that the Federation has trusted me to come back and be a part of it, because it is bigger than basketball. You hope to influence not just the girls in Virgin Islands when they are watching the AmeriCup games but you’re also hoping that girls around the world are starting to see a change. One of the things that my players pointed out in El Salvador was that I was the only female coach there. I mean they noticed that right away and of course, it definitely made a statement when I was one of the few female coaches to ever put a skirt on to coach the game.”
Abraham Ngongba’s mission is to use basketball as a medium to show what is possible in work, family and life on the islands she loves and well beyond.
“I’m here to invest in the islands beyond just basketball. It’s my duty. I’m someone that’s wired to give back. I was brought up believing it took a village to get you where you are, and now I can be somebody else’s village. It’s how I think and it’s something that I hope makes me unique in what I do as a coach – pour into people, pour into communities, just having that mindset. I’m just thankful that God has given me a platform where I can give back and can still be around and do what I love to do and influence people in a way that’s pretty unique.”
The Virgin Islands will field a very similar roster to the one who qualified in El Salvador, which their head coach describes as spirited, tough, fun and resilient but will have three valuable additions in experienced players Natalie Day and Victoria Hamilton as well as new addition Molina Williams from UNC Charlotte. CentroBasket All Stars Anisha George, Imani Tate also return and now have the experience of playing and living in the bubble for qualifying which will serve them well as training camp will open with a roster of more than the nine – players they used to qualify which made the feat even more odds defying.
“Everyone is super excited to get to Puerto Rico. We start training camp on May 26 and so obviously we have to do all our COVID protocols before getting to the Island (Puerto Rico) and again when we eventually get there for the tournament. The girls are really looking forward to it. We are excited to get going again and see what we can do.”
The FIBA Women’s AmeriCup takes place June 11-19, 2021 in Puerto Rico. The Virgin Islands will participate in Group A along with Canada, Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador.