j-thamThe sport of basketball is growing from strength to strength on the shores of Ghana and over the years there have been prospects in the game who strive hard to reach higher heights. One landmark Ghana reached this year was when a proud son of the land Ben Bentil was drafted into the Boston Celtics in the year 2016.

Bentil’s draft was not the only time Ghanaian basketball was brought into limelight in the year 2016. On the world stage, it was Ben Bentil who made the headlines but on the African Continent we had the University of Ghana pick up the gold medal in the male basketball division in the Africa University Games.

Ghanafans.com caught up with one integral member of the Ghana team of the year Point Guard Joel Tham. A level 300 student at the University of Ghana offering Geography and Sociology. He was asked key questions which took us through his journey in the sport and indeed his ambition as far the sport of basketball is concerned.

Tham also played in the annual Senior High School Sprite Championship and it is only expedient we chat with a hero of the tournament as it celebrates its 10th Anniversary next year.

Ghanafans: Can you tell us your full name?


Joel Tham: I go by the name Joel Tham

Ghanafans: How did you get introduced to the game of basketball?

JT: I was introduced to the game of basketball when I was a teenager in Junior high School. I played soccer initially but my feet are very big and it was difficult getting soccer boots to fit. I started playing basketball and I realised that I could get basketball sneakers as I used to wear size 45 at the time. This was one leading reason but as time went on I grew in love with the game.


Ghanafans: Did you face any stereotypes and the usual challenge of people discouraging you in your passion for the game of basketball?

JT: I started experiencing this in the year 2014(right after Senior High School) when there were tournaments and I told friends I was busy training with the national team and going for practice the response is usually sour. They usually tell me to focus on my education and they could not understand why I was still playing basketball. Regardless, we (basketball players in Ghana) know what we want and the passion is there.

Ghanafans: Speaking of High School, can you state your alma mater and your basketball experience there?

JT: First of all, I attended Presbyterian Boys’ Secondary School (PRESEC-LEGON). We were the first school to win the Sprite Ball Championship in 2007 and I entered in 2011 and got into the school team that same year. I was not getting playing time because I had to make way for the seniors to play. During my time there, we won the inter schools and superzonals but unfortunately we placed 2nd in the Sprite Ball.

Ghanafans: How did you get into the PRESEC-Legon team as a form 1 student?

JT: Okay, before I entered PRESEC I used to go to the University of Ghana basketball court and other courts in the city to play and that made those who play basketball In Accra around the time take note of me. This meant that as I entered PRESEC I had seniors who knew me from various courts as well as I had my personal coach who eventually became the coach of the school team so joining the school team was quite automatic for me.

Ghanafans: How many sprite ball championships did you play and can you take us through your 1st championship?

JT: I played in two sprite ball championships which was form 2 in 2013 and form 3 in 2014. The first one we played was very pathetic. We did not get anywhere but we had great players in “Grenade” and Reggie and that made people view as a team to perform in that tournament. Unfortunately, lack of discipline for the game and the poor team chemistry did not let us surpass even the group stages. It was the following year when I became a senior was when I came together with my colleagues and we beat every team in the tournament until that dreaded final.


Ghanafans: Lets then talk about this 2014 final where you pushed everyone aside and finally lost to Keta Senior High School. Looking back what made you lose that final? JT: On my part, I thought my teammates were scared because it was a final. The energy and crowd in a final is something you will never see or experience at the group stages or on the knockout stages except the final. Our centers who were the big guys were quite sluggish when it came to defense and then we faced a more experienced Ketasco team who had the pedigree of reaching like three finals in the previous years. We lost by 4 points and it was all good.

Ghanafans: But before the game started, there was some energy oozing from your squad after your captain gave his pep talk.  Do you think it was rather over-confidence that played a part instead of your players being scared as you said?

JT: Confidence came from the fact that we had won all the games before the final but we all knew deep down that our centers did not really do their bit because most of the points we conceded came from the paint very close to the rim.

Ghanafans: After the 2014 sprite Ball you complete Presec and move on to your next level of education. How did you perceive the game right after you finished high school before going entering your next school?


JT: I realized that high school basketball is rather a low level of basketball in Ghana and that if you do not develop your game from the level you completed high school with you will definitely lag behind. In high school I played as a forward but with my personal coach was able to determine I will be a better point guard. Within a year I trained towards that and play for the National U-18 team as a Point Guard. The conclusion I came to make after high school was the game of basketball is actually bigger and higher than it seems in high school.

Ghanafans: After Presec-Legon, you enter University of Ghana with as a new beginning. Did you feel any ego since you were a Sprite Ball finalist and had played in the U-18 national team?

JT: No! No! I am not that kind of man. I actually believe that I have a lot to learn and I feel that even if I am better than you I can also learn something small from you to improve my game. But, the thing is before I came to the University of Ghana I was already in the team. There is nothing like ego!

Ghanafans: How was your first tournament in the tertiary level?


JT: Just like what happened in high school, my first tournament was pathetic and this was due to the fact that we had a coach who wasn’t good. He was actually a hockey coach who had come to coach basketball. We played the UPAC and were not able to make the actual championship after suffering a defeat to Marshalls. I was actually not able to play in that game because the coach took me and a few of my colleagues out since we missed practice. The team was quite awful due to the wrong decisions he took. A year after that we had Coach Meme Falconer and he was able to lead us to win 3 major tournaments.

Ghanafans: Was there any different approach and strategy coach Meme implemented in the various tournaments?

JT: From GUSA to South Africa, It was the same approach which was defense. The team believes in defence and we go by the saying “Defence win championships” We take the game from the opponent and make it count on the other side.

Ghanafans: Your 2nd year in the team was that triumphant year where you were tops at the GUSA, UPAC and FASU games.What was your secret as a team?

JT:  It was hard work, commitment and passion of the coach. We were all willing to win. We were all willing to make something big and the coach kept on pushing us to the end and he did play an integral part.

Ghanafans: That gruesome final against Accra Polytechnic was one game that everyone could feel the tension and energy? How was your nerves going into that game?


Joel Tham: Going into that game I had to admit I was shaking and nerves almost got to me but after the warm up I just zoomed into the game

Ghanafans: After UPAC you move to play for the team in South Africa in the Africa University Games? How does it feel playing basketball outside the shores of Ghana?

JT: The feeling is always different. Prior to this tournament I had been to South Africa to play. I also went to Benin to play in the U-18 African tournament qualifiers. There are always players you meet in who play in a different way. As well as players who are actually more athletic and ones who shoot way better.

Ghanafans: The University of Ghana team was the Team of the Year at the Ghana Basketball awards. What message does it send to you directly, being an integral part of the team?

JT: It sends me the message that hard work will always pay off no matter where you find yourself. Even in a small area just work hard in what you do and it will pay off.


Ghanafans: Your basketball journey has been a blissful one so far. You mention coaches being defining factors of your basketball career. Can you take us through the coaches you had and compare their various coaching styles?

JT: I have been through the hands of five coaches. Amongst these coaches it was 3 coaches who have deeply imparted into my growth as a basketball player. There is Coach Michael Davis who is my personal coach, coach Lawal Brimah a.k.a Ororo of CEPS who was in charge in my time at the National U-18 side and my current coach in University of Ghana Coach Meme.

Coach Nash who was my first coach in University of Ghana I must say had no or rather limited knowledge on basketball.

Coach Davis is actually who is behind Joel Tham as a basketball player. He took me under wings after I completed Junior High School and has developed and his style manifest as me playing on the court.


Coach Brimah is a very great coach with his pedigree as coach of CEPS and the national team. He also played professional basketball in Nigeria. I did learn a lot within the 2 to 3 months I spent with him.Coach Meme is a coach just like Michael Davis who has expertise in player development. Davis and Meme are great in player development but Coach Brimah is “the coach” when it comes to the technical side of the game.

Ghanafans: Who are your icons in the game?

JT: I do get questions like that a lot. I am really not a fanatic of individual players but I try to combine styles of players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving when I play.

Ghanafans:Where do you see yourself in basketball four years from now?

I see myself making it big and I always say I didn’t choose basketball but GOD chose basketball for me so it is where he will take me to. Personally, I do have plans of going far with basketball and the NBA is my target.


What do you have to say to the younger guys especially in your alma mater who have taken up the game of basketball?

JT: I will tell them basketball is all about practice and how much you want to succeed or make it. It’s about who wants it the most if you really want it then go for it. Also do not forget your God. Put GOD first in everything you do.

Courtesy: Ghanafans


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