Creating independence through basketball

NEW YEAR, NEW FACES: They’ve come from as far away as Sydney, Australia, and as close to home as Chapel Hill, N.C. This year’s incoming first-year class of 3,960 enrollees at UNC features award-winning researchers, artists, directors, dancers, writers, community activists, athletes – and even a certified gerbil breeder. All are bright. All are hopeful. And this week, we meet five of them.


When Nadia Alama approached her mother four years ago about creating a basketball team to compete in the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament in Atlanta, she simply missed playing. Her school didn’t have a squad, and the spirited forward wanted to get back on the court.

chalkboard“The first year was about basketball,” says the 17-year-old, who recently graduated from Cato Middle College in Charlotte, “but after that first year, it kind of stopped being about basketball, and more about giving these girls such a fun opportunity, the chance to go away for the weekend … to have a little bit of independence.

“And it is one of the reasons I was comfortable coming here [to Chapel Hill] for school.”

In the traditional Muslim culture, Alama explained, girls often don’t “go away” to college – even a three-hour drive away – as parents are protective of the females in their family and prefer to keep them close to home. That’s one of the reasons why, when Alama helped form the Charlotte Knights basketball team in 2009, only six other girls took the overnight trip with her, her mom and a principal to Atlanta.

But once other families heard about the experience – which also featured academic competitions and workshops — the numbers grew the next year. And the next. So did the talent.

By 2012, Alama’s basketball team had risen from “not so great” results to a second-place finish in the Southeast region.

By then, though, the experience was a lot more important than the stats.

The positive Atlanta experience led to other opportunities. As a high school junior, she attended an interfaith camp with Mecklenburg Ministries. For three nights and four days, she had no access to technology or communication with her family at all.

It made Alama, and her parents, more comfortable with choosing UNC – her “dream school” since age 11, she said, but a dream that seemed far away until her basketball getaways.

“It is becoming more common, now, for Muslim girls to go farther away for college,’’ she says. “And my experience, it helped me a lot because it made me realize I can be away from home, and I can do things in the community and help out. … Hopefully, it helped the other girls, too.”

At Carolina, Alama plans to study pharmacy, and she wants to join community outreach clubs, interfaith groups, and perhaps learn to play tennis.

And yes, she says, “I’m going to try to play intramural basketball, too.”

Read more about UNC’s Class of 2017.

Story by Robbi Pickeral of University Relations.

Coming tomorrow: An Inquisitive Researcher

From Monday:  A Drummer-Physicist

Published August 19, 2013.