February 17, 2014

Interview with Tolu Omotola.

I was thrilled at the opportunity spend the day watching Hapoel Rishon LeZion women’s basketball team, thanks to a dear friend of mine Toluwani (Tolu) Omotola.  She’s known basketball most of her life.  From a young age, her charisma and talent put her under the radar.  Being so hardworking and dedicated to the sport, it was a no-brainer where she’d end up.  Through high school, she played for Dulles Vikins and Bellaire Cardinals.  In college, she played for Liberty Flames and TCU Horned Frogs.  Now she plays pro.  She often has to be away stretches of time from family to play overseas.  Currently, she’s playing in the city of Rishon LeZion, Israel.  She's one out of three African-American women drafted into their women's basketball league.

It takes a unique character to be able to navigate so many places—often countries with vastly different cultures and customs; make a great impression—the restauranteurs know her by name and serves up the best dishes in the house.  Tagging along with her, we were served up freshly prepped dishes to die for. When that wasn’t enough, we had the liberty to peruse and order up anything on the desert menu courtesy of the restaurant.  By the time I left Soho sushi grill and bar, I thought I’d pass out!  
Watching Tolu with her teammates, it’s undeniable how hard she works. The team's coach pushes them hard.  Starting with warm-ups, the intensity of training go up from there. I felt the intensity of the drills—sprints, the runs, the dribbles and hoop shoots. As they come up for a breather, beads of sweat fall off their worked muscles. They are prone to injury too! I felt for her as she pushed herself with an injured ankle. Poor thing couldn’t walk her gait’s messed up sometimes. Walking becomes tasking. She pushes herself too, not only on the court, but in everything she does. She was determined to ensure an enjoyable time on my visit. As I wondered when she’ll finally get some rest in her apartment, she’s busy planning somewhere else I had to explore. I visited quite a few places as she’d have it. When she’s not planning to take me out, she’s up again to practice. True to her professional work ethic and value, she hates being late. She arrives at least 30 minutes ahead of the team to have her injured ankle worked on by the team’s trainer. Next she’s up in the court, running, sprinting, dribbling—boy I thought I’d seen my share of hard work!

We had a little chat on her way to practice.

M: How’s life for you here in Israel?
T:   Great! Great, it’s lively, it’s always something to do. People are friendly, it’s just awesome.

M: How often do you practice for the games?
T:  Everyday, practice sometimes twice a day.

M: And I heard for you practice sometimes go… The least you practice for three hours.
T:  Actual practice time is two hours. Sometimes we have film before, so including film, it’s about
M: Do they film you?
T:  No. We watch films of what we’ve done in the past. So like other games that we’ve watched, we 
      watch it and critique ourselves, or we watch the other team that we’re going to play.
M: When's playoffs?
T:  Playoffs begin February 10th and end March 17th.

M: Do you think you are ready for that?
T:  Yes.

M: Well I've seen you practice. It’s really hard work, so I can’t imagine that, at 
      this point you aren’t ready.
T: Yeah thanks!

M: How do you spend your downtime?
T: During downtime I’m resting. I'm running errands.

M: Do you do anything else for fun?
T: Sometimes I meet up a few friends I know here in Israel. We go to the movies, go out to eat, go to 
    the beach, just walk around, there’s so much to see.

M: What are your favorite things to do outside basketball?
T: I like to swim, I like to sit in the Jacuzzi, relax. I like to, walk around, sight-see, I like to cook—
    that’s a new hobby for me.
M: That’s very interesting, I can’t imagine you having (laughs) anytime to cook at all.  I imagine you
       so exhausted and you want to come home and go straight to bed because you have to practice
       again. So, cooking! Wow, that’s good!
T:  It’s something I’ve disciplined myself to do.

M: Israel’s in love with basketball, there are so many teams out here. Do the female teams work with 
      the male teams? Support one another?
T: That’s a tough one. I’ve seen a few men’s basketball players come to the women’s games, not a 
     lot, not as much as I see female basketball players supporting the mens’s teams.

M: How’s your family back home? Are they supportive?
T:  Very supportive, I’m so thankful for them.

M: Do you get home sick?
T:  Oh yes! All the time, you just find ways to deal with it.

M: How do you deal with it?
T:  Just counting down the days honestly, counting down the days and try to enjoy the time that I’m 
     here and just be thankful for everything, instead of complaining and murmuring about being home 
M: Well, you certainly have devised ways, you know how to navigate your environment. You always 
      travel from one place to another and sometimes you’re not familiar with where you’re going but, 
      you find a way to assimilate which is very commendable. A very strong person, a certain 
      character can do that, so that’s really good.  What’s next for you after the playoffs are over?
T: For me I’m gonna really relax, try to rejuvenate for the upcoming season. I don’t know where I’m 
     going, but I’d be training for that.

There's never a dull moment in this young athlete's life, yet she manages her time effortlessly. She gave me a grand tour of Israel.  Watching her, you'd think she's lived here for years.
Thanks for reading.
I appreciate you.

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