Nhlanhla “Lucky” Vela (19) is one of the South African student men’s basketball team members heading to Chengdu, China, for the FISU World University Games.
Leaving on his first overseas flight on Saturday [July 22], Lucky only discovered his love for basketball five years ago in Mthatha: “Basketball saved me from the bad influences we get exposed to as teenagers from tough backgrounds, and it changed my home situation.”
From next week [July 28 – August 8] he will compete in the Men’s Basketball Group A – with among others, hosts China – against the world’s best university students.
However, only a year ago, his future was not as secure and bright. He lived alone in a rented room in Gqeberha’s city centre and walked about 8 km’s to practice basketball at the beachfront.
Lucky had moved to Gqeberha from East London, and Mthatha, hoping to get more opportunities to play basketball in the Friendly City, and tried to make it on his own as a pupil at Kwezi Lomso High School.
“I met Cameron (Parry) at a street basketball game in the park and he invited me to church. This is where I developed a close relationship with God and I got the family and community support from him and the church,” said Lucky.
For Cameron, who picked up more than just a new sporting hobby that day when he met the then “18-year-old, 2-metre giant”, mentoring Lucky was a new experience for the church finance manager, but one of the most rewarding friendships of his life.
“I gave him a lift to practices and helped a bit with tutoring and schoolwork. My wife (Bianca) and I didn’t have the financial resources to help, but we did have the time and love, and it was very rewarding to open up our hearts to him. We are very proud of all he has achieved despite his hectic childhood,” said Cameron.
Bianca helped Lucky to apply to the University of Pretoria (TUKS), where he is currently in his first year studying towards a Higher Certificate in Sport Science. The church community, Father’s House Church in North End, also raised money for Lucky to buy new basketball shoes and a laptop to set him up for his studies.
“I would love to play basketball professionally and it is my goal to make it to the big leagues, like the NBA or Euro League, one day,” said Lucky.