By Casey Neill
Basketball is protecting and transforming at-risk Dandenong youths through a new African team.
The Black Rhino players received their jerseys at Dandenong Basketball Stadium on Tuesday 16 May ahead of their first tournament on Sunday 22 May.
Malawi-born Selba Luka told guests at the team launch event that she struggled to settle into life in a new country.
Her marriage broke up and her teenage daughter went off the rails.
“At the time I wanted to deport my own daughter,” she said.
The mental health clinician started Afri-Aus Care to help others, and through her work met Jamy Alex.
She helped him through his problems with drinking, drugs and court.
“This child was lost,” she said.
“He wanted to die, but he is here.”
She embraced his idea of starting a basketball club and the Black Rhinos were born.
“These young people, they just need love,” she said.
“Give them hope.
“Things will change.”
Ms Luka said the team name referenced the endangered black rhinoceros, which was receiving protection to ensure its survival.
“Our young people, we don’t want to lose them through drugs or alcohol,” she said.
“We want to protect them.”
Basketball Victoria’s Karen Pearce said the Black Rhinos was increasing social connectivity and physical health, and decreasing anti-social behaviour and criminal activity.
“We will use our sport as a distraction technique to gently steer participants into an environment that is safe, inclusive and supportive,” she said.
Dandenong Basketball CEO Graeme Allen found a court space for the team on a Tuesday night.
He said 15 kids turned up for the first session and there were now 60 signed up.
Mr Allen said the older teens had started to bring their younger siblings with them.
“When you’re involved in sport you’re held to account pretty well,” he said.
“For me, in maybe two months, maybe three months, if we see the Black Rhinos as a club in this association, participating in our domestic basketball competition during the week, that would be ideal.”
Magistrate Jack Vandersteen said the court dealt with a lot of youths who didn’t play sport, and emphasised its importance alongside family and school.
“If you combine those three things, the chances of you ever coming to court and having any contact with Victoria Police is minimal, in fact non-existent,” he said.
“I’m going to come on Sunday. I’m going to bring my family.”
Dandenong MP Gabrielle Williams said she played sport growing up.
“It taught me a lot about life,” she said.
“It’s not just participation and fun and relationships but it’s also discipline, it’s learning not to let your team mates down.
“I can see why it’s a great vehicle through which to engage young people.
“A team, a club is also a place for people to feel welcome, to be themselves, to meet new people, to find new pathways.”
Greater Dandenong Mayor Jim Memeti said sport connected people.
“It gives people who’ve lost their way a purpose,” he said.
“Basketball has literally turned around the lives of these young people.”
Acting Commander Peter Lardner spoke briefly on behalf of Victoria Police.
“We find it a real positive to be involved in these sorts of activities,” he said.
The Black Rhinos will play in the ADRA and VicYouth Basketball Tournament at Dandenong Basketball Stadium on Sunday 21 May.