Friday, February 12, 2010

Mariga’s sister wants to play in the top league

Mercy Wanyama of Nairobi’s Langata High School. Mercy is daughter of football great Noah Wanyama and the younger sister of McDonald Mariga, who plays for top Italian Serie-A side Inter Milan. Photo/CHRIS OJOW

Mercy Wanyama of Nairobi’s Langata High School. Mercy is daughter of football great Noah Wanyama and the younger sister of McDonald Mariga, who plays for top Italian Serie-A side Inter Milan. Photo/CHRIS OJOW 

By AYUMBA AYODI

The garden has just started to blossom with flowers and if Noah and Mildred Wanyama thought they have had enough of its scent, then they are completely wrong.

Their son, McDonald Mariga is arguably Kenya’s most famous footballer at the moment, having joined Italian champions Inter Milan early this month.

Their other son, Victor Mugabe, plays professional soccer in Belgium, while yet another son, Thomas Wanyama, plays for Kenya champions Sofapaka.

Then there is their 17-year-old daughter, Mercy Wanyama.

The lanky Langata High School student, who stands at an impressive 6 feet tall, has dreams of one day playing in the top women’s basketball league in the world, America’s Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Mercy captains her school basketball team, and is also the overall games captain.

When Saturday Nation visited her at school, she was in a jovial mood after leading her school to a 22-18 victory over Parklands Arya.

Her family has been in the news of late after her famous brother’s attempt to join UK Premier League side Manchester City fell through after he was denied a work permit.

Inter Milan came calling and the rest is history.

“Mariga’s move to Inter Milan has inspired me to work hard and, God willing, the WNBA will soon have another test of Kenya’s best,” vowed Mercy, a former soccer goalkeeper.

She has a role model to look up to; the only other Kenyan woman to feature in the WNBA is Josephine Owino, who was signed by Washington Mystics in the 2009 WNBA draft.

Working hard

The soft-talking Mercy wants to clear high school first, join a university where she will play basketball and then move on to bigger things.

What does she think of her famous big brother in Italy? “He deserves all the best in this world because of his hard work. He is humble, kind and a go-getter.”

Of course the fame has rubbed off on her, with her friends and schoolmates now in awe of her, but she remains down to earth.

Her coaches are full of praise of her. “She combines well as a centre and forward,” says school head coach Francis Mukwana. “Above all, she is disciplined and well above average in class.”

Her basketball coach, Nehema Muoki, adds that Mercy means what she says and if WNBA is her destination, then she will get there.

“She is bubbling with talent,” says Muoki. “What is outstanding is that she takes the team as hers and is quick at instilling unity, teamwork and morale.”

Muoki remembers when Lang’ata lost 29-27 to Shimba Hills during the East African schools championships final in Uganda last year, and Mercy was at hand to console her colleagues despite not donning the armband.

Basketball was never quite her choice; her first love was soccer. She played as a goalkeeper for Nairobi’s Muthurwa Country Bus Primary School.
She joined Nakuru’s Shiners Girls but moved to Langata High following the 2008 post-election violence.

Still keen on football and netball, it was Langata High’s principal, Peter Orero, who noticed her skills at a netball championship and convinced her to switch to basketball.

“He walked straight to where I was and told me that basketball is where my future is and I should not waste my height, power and skills in netball,” says Mercy.

She led Langata to the Nairobi provincial title last year, when she sunk 24 points in their 51-36 final win over St George’s Girls. They finished third in the national finals behind Shimba Hills and Tigoi.

She credits her soccer-crazy brothers and two sisters, Alice and Cynthia, who also play basketball, for her success.

“We are all an inspiration to each other, but everyone pursues their own ambitions.” says Mercy.

“ We always draw inspiration from each other’s success, however small, and work hard to achieve our dreams. I don’t want to live in the shadows of my siblings and I am glad that I am not under much attention from my schoolmates.”

Mercy explains that her parents have always given them the leeway to pursue their ambitions.

Their father, Noah Wanyama, played for AFC Leopards and Harambee Stars as a left winger.

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