In the local basketball league, when you hear fans, pundits and coaches talk about the game, the name Robert Mosalakatane is mentioned in the same breath as Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar, Kobe Bryant of the NBA.
Bendo, as many prefer to call him, has become a household name during the last seven years.
He is regarded as one of the best players to have graced local basketball courts, his prominence growing every season.
His career started at Delta Waters where his skills helped them earn a silver medal in the Botswana Integrated Sports Association (BISA) 2006 games.
This did not go unnoticed as Spartans, the only team he has played for, snatched him up in 2007.
“My first game was in 2008 against NIIT. I did not disappoint as I managed to score 42points in that game,” says Mosalakatane.
He grew up emulating his basketball hero, Michel Jordan, and his current idol, Kobe Bryant.
But where did his love for this sport which is number four or even five in terms of popularity in Botswana stem from?
“I started playing basketball at Thornhill Primary in 2004. That time I even got the opportunity to play for Botswana’s Under 14 national team. It was my big break,” said Mosalakatane.
Bendo took a round-about route, starting with soccer before deciding to go with his first love ÔÇô basketball.
“I preferred basketball to other popular sports codes such as football and volleyball. My friends and I were better at it as well,” he says.
After that there was no looking back. He captained Botswana’s Under 17 and Under 20 teams at the Zone 6 games which were played in 2008 and 2010. Bendo has also represented the senior national team 29 times.
At the 2011 national championship games, he scored 62 points for Spartans, his exploits making him the Most Valuable Player (MVP).
When Spartans took on Africa in the 2012 Africa Club Championships he was a player to watch. He went on to captain the Botswana senior team in the Afro basket qualifiers in 2012.
It was a sterling year for Bendo, his formidable performances helping the Spartans win the league and championship. He has minted eight gold medals, 14 silver and one bronze ever since he became a basketball player.
The 23-year-old Spartans point guard has made a name for himself, feared by opponents and revered by teammates and supporters.
Like his NBA idol Bryant, when the chips are down he is a game winner, his ability to easily snake away with blazing speed from defence and leap high to put in a point making him a menace for most local teams.
Though physique and height are not his forte, his sheer confidence and skill have caused grief for his opponents.
He combines intelligence with accurate shooting and can easily score a point from long ranges. On his good day Mosalakatane rarely misses a free throw, making his opponents wary of giving away silly fouls.
A mixture of agility, speed, flair and skill is what can best describe Mosalakatane’s unique style sets him above the rest in the local league.
In the last season’s league campaign, Mosalakatane helped his side beat giants Troopers 70-66 towards the end of the season. He was a marvel to watch on that day.
Troopers coach William Nyangu said he would not concentrate on one player, but Bendo ended up tormenting the Troopers defence in the much-anticipated top of the table clash.
In the National Championship semi-finals second series against Dolphins, Coach Trynos Moyo of Dolphins assigned his team to track down Mosalakatane and contain him. The youthful Dolphins side emerged victorious in that second series.
After the game, Moyo gave credit to the team’s Zimbabwean point guard Nathan Wakandwa for containing Mosalakatane.
“If you contain Bendo and make sure he does not play, chances are high that Spartans will be found wanting,” said Moyo after the game.
Bendo has become accustomed to being targeted and planned for by opposition defenders.
For his his team, it is a blessing in disguise when teams target him as Spartans have many players who are able to do the job for the team, Bendo says.
“Opposing teams will usually try to stop me but this could very well work to our advantage as too much focus on me gives my other trusted teammates chance to do damage to the opponent,” he said.
He was echoing what said by his mentor, Bobotho Ratsoma last season when every team seemed to be planning its game around Bendo. Ratsoma warned that this could be very dangerous for opposition.
Bendo points at Churchill Barrows as a player that always gives him a tough time.
“He is definitely one of the harder players to play against both in defence and offense. I also like his dedication and love for the sport,” said Mosalakatane.
What makes him the best player he is today?
“I have no special secrets; it is just basic team training and personal gym. Individual training would most likely be a light 200 shots to improve my shooting,” said Bendo.
He regrets his team losing the championship narrowly to Troopers after a good performance throughout the season. Bendo also laments losing two of most experienced key players to retirement.
He says basketball as a sport in Botswana is stagnant and “is too closed off from the rest of the world and does not give opportunities to players.”
Bendo said it could benefit a lot if the league had sponsors to develop sporting facilities and motivate players.