Yusuf is an energetic and engaging character, with a permanent grin and attitude to match. FOCUS dusted off the Nike Airs and played some one on one to find out more.
Can you tell us about where you’re from originally?
From Somalia, which is in East Africa.
What is Somalia like as a place?
Somalia is an amazing country with great buildings and scenery (Google it) that is full of wealth, with natural resources as well as oil. Unfortunately, Civil War destroyed everything. Right now, the country is growing and recovering at a rapid pace and is much safer.
How did you come to live in Coffs?
I moved from Melbourne in February last year to play basketball for the Brisbane Spartans in The South East Australian Basketball League, which is Australia’s Premier Winter Basketball League. Then I stayed in Brisbane ‘til September last year and moved to Coffs Harbour.
I began working with the Coffs Harbour Basketball Association to try to help develop the hard working country kids and also run my own academy, called “Hard Knockz Academy”, for the kids who want to be beasts.
What is your current role, and how are you helping kids learn more about the sport?
I run the Hard Knockz Academy to help develop ball handling, shooting, plus all the other skills, and this helps with mental toughness. It’s open to all kids, and I train them pretty hard so they can better themselves.
When did you start playing basketball?
I started playing ball at 12 and learned pretty quickly – always asking questions and training about eight hours a day, before school at 5:30am, during school, after school, and then with my team.
When did you realise that you had talent and skills?
When I made my first rep team and I noticed I had speed and then skills that I learned playing on the streets of Heidelberg Heights against older people.
The streets of Heidelberg are in Melbourne, Victoria, where I learned to play ball, playing outdoors at the local primary school. After school and weekends we played until sunset. It was very tough, and we had a “no blood no foul” rule.
What do you love most about the game?
I love the competition, the hard work which is fun to me and also crossing people up.
You spent time playing for Melbourne Tigers and Brisbane Spartans; can you tell us about those experiences?
Playing with Melbourne Tigers was amazing. I learned a lot from guys like Dmack, Anstey, Rashad Tucker, Corey Williams and Julius Hodge, Matt Burston and my favourite, coach Al Westover.
What is the training regime like?
I go to the gym about three times a week and also workout on the basketball court about four times a week, to stay sharp. Weekends usually include a beach session with sprints and parachute workout. I try to do something every day. No days off!
You are also the captain of the Somali National Team. Do you travel back to Somalia often, and how is the level of playing there?
No, we don’t actually go back to Somalia; we meet about four days before tournaments at the location of the tournament and train. We don’t have the funds to travel back, and I help pay my way with some support from the Somali community in Melbourne.
Is it an honour to be the captain of your nation’s team?
The position of captain, for my country is a great responsibility and a great honour, one that I take very seriously.
What makes a good captain?
The role of captain has its challenges, because you’re dealing with a lot of egos and personalities, and it requires a lot of patience and listening. You must be able to solve conflict on the fly and keep everyone on the same page.
On top of all that, you can’t take things people say personally and need to try not to be too sensitive.
Lead by example: that’s what Nathan Buckley told me at my time with Collingwood F.C, right before I played for my national team in 2014.
Where around the world do the rest of the Somali team come from?
Most of my teammates live in Canada and America. They play for colleges and teams over there.
What is your favourite memory from playing basketball?
My first NBL game, the very first possession I crossed up and scored on a guy who later became like a brother to me. The crowd went crazy every time I touched the ball after that; it’s an amazing memory.
What are some of the skills you need to have to play the position of guard?
To be a really good guard, one must have:
Vision – to be able to see everything on the court, teammate cuts to basket, shooter is open, big man stealing.
Creative – to be able to make plays for not only yourself, but also all of your teammates. Ball handling – must be able to take care of the ball and with little flair, because that’s the beginning of all skills. If you can’t dribble, then you can’t play.
Shooting – must be able to shoot the ball from layups to 3s at a good percentage. Layups, floaters, jump shots, step backs and many more.
Defence – must be able to lock down his defender and also be able to help teammates.
Pick and Rolls – must be able to use screens at a high conversion rate.
I.Q – must be very smart player and thinking the game.
Heart – must be brave and never have fear. Mistakes are inevitable, so a guard must stay composed at all times.
As a guard, are you still attacking and shooting?
Attacking the basket and creating is my bread and butter. I can shoot fairly well, but I don’t live and die by my jump shot.
Have you had any injuries throughout your career?
I have been fortunate enough to never have a serious injury up until last year after the first three games. It’s mentally challenging to overcome, not so much the injury, but the doubts about how you are playing. Confidence gets really low and it’s really hard to overcome, but I just stayed positive – and coaching the kids helped me get my mind right again.
How important is flexibility and stretching?
One must stretch a lot to remain flexible and loose to prevent injuries. There is also the ice bath, which I hate with a passion, but it’s one of the best recovery methods.
How important is teamwork?
I think teamwork is very important, but you still have to have an individual’s work ethic. That way everyone improves individually, hence makes the team better collectively. You need to be selfless and pass on a good shot for a better shot – also to be in sync offensively and defensively.
What advice would you give to young players who want to make it to the top?
I’d tell any individual who wants to be a professional athlete to work harder than the hard working, sacrifice going out with friends but instead work out, be persistent every day, have faith in yourself and in a higher power, and you will be successful.