Two weeks ago former coach and PPI success story, Lesego Andrew Goba, stopped by the DC office. For many of us, it was our first opportunity to meet Goba and hear his incredible journey from South Africa to the USA.
Lesego Andrew Goba playing in his final year at Stony Brook University
On the outskirts of Durban is Inanda, a rural village not unlike many villages in South Africa. Although most houses had no running water, electricity or even telephones, Goba viewed his rural upbringing as a positive. “Scarcity of resources taught me to be grateful for what I had; and inspired me to pursue that which I did not have, fearlessly, because I had nothing to lose.”
Goba (upper middle) with his cousins near his home in Inanda
By age 8 Goba would go out by himself to the city or the beach, teaching himself to be independent and solve his own problems, and every Sunday morning at 7am he and his friends would walk 45 minutes to the only basketball court around and play pickup until the mid-day sun forced them to stop. During the week Goba would commute 1 hour each way to his school in Northwood, dreaming of a day when basketball would take him to a better life.
Goba first got interested in basketball as a young kid while watching NBA Inside Stuff with Ahmad Rashaad on one of the only three TV channels he had, but it wasn’t until the basketball coach at Durban High School (DHS), Craig Gilchrist, recruited him to play that his dreams started to become a reality. At DHS Goba got his first taste of organized basketball and he quickly excelled, helped in part to his recent growth spurt that left him towering over his peers.
“I remember the day, the time, even the street corner, where I met the man who would change my life.”
In 2003, during his final year at DHS, Goba was stopped at the corner of Musgrave and Essenwood, by PPI cofounder, Sean Tuohey. After recently starting PPI in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sean was in South Africa to start a program in Durban. Sean talked about PPI for almost an hour, and even though Goba didn’t really understand what Sean was saying, Goba agreed to join his vision and begin coaching for PPI.
Goba (right) as a PPI coach on a leadership retreat in Durban
The two quickly built up a close relationship, and in April of 2005, after 2 years of coaching around Durban for PPI, Sean surprised Goba again, this time handing him an address in New York and saying that he would be flying there in a few weeks. As usual, Goba didn’t understand what Sean was talking about. The address turned out to belong to Sean’s younger brother, and the plan was to get Goba to the USA so that he could show off his skills to some college recruits. Goba was directed to take the subway after arriving in JFK, which was absolutely foreign to him. He recalls that when he got to JFK, he boycotted Sean’s mission, and just went with the first guy that said “taxi!”
One month later Goba was playing in an AAU tournament in Washington DC. There he met the head coach of the Stony Brook basketball team, Steve Pikiell, who would help Goba get into Stony Brook on an athletic scholarship. “It was like winning the lotto, given where I came from. I wasn’t going to mess this up.”
But the adjustment from South Africa to New York wasn’t easy. On the first day of basketball practice it was raining outside and Goba assumed that meant practice was cancelled, after all every practice he had ever been to had depended on the weather. Only 30 minutes before did it click that his new team practiced indoors. Goba sprinted to practice, barely arriving in time.
Goba with Coach Pikiell (right) and Mentor Randall Susman (left)
The first practice at the DI level was hardest of his life. For Goba, it was like going straight from high school to the NBA. By now Goba was 6’7” and a mere 185 pounds, much lighter than most of the centers that he had to match up with. But despite his early challenges, Goba succeeded on and off the court. He decided to pursue a career in medicine, graduating in 4 years with a BS in Public Health. During that time Goba became a team captain, won Scholar Athlete of the Year, and during his final home game, Stony Brook Men’s Basketball won their first-ever America East Regular-Season Championship.
After graduating Goba got a second BS in nursing and has recently begun working at the Stony Brook Medical Hospital in the Psychiatric Department. He now aspires to continue his education as a psychiatric nurse practitioner (masters level), and get his doctorate. “My education was the paved road that I could now walk on. I had to maximize the opportunity.”
“I believe that we are blessed so we too can be a blessing to others.”
Goba with PPI Cofounder and Executive Director Brendan Tuohey
Goba goes back to Durban every year to see his family, but he plans on staying in the USA to master his craft so that one day he can return home and give something special and of high quality back to his community. In the long term Goba wants to teach kids how to realize their potential, use the natural skills they acquire from living in poverty/dire circumstances to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them, and thus improve their quality of life. “This is what Sean Tuohey essentially did for me, and in compliments of him and PPI, this is what I want to essentially do for others.”
As he reflects on his 7-year journey, Goba realizes that it all started as a dream, a vision, a desire, and that one man, one moment, changed the course of his life. Goba believes that from that day at the corner of Essenwood and Musgrave, his success has been profoundly and fundamentally based on an ancient Zulu Proverb: “umuntu, umuntu ngabantu,” which means “someone, is someone, because of someone/some people.”