Ramses Lonlack to Return to Africa to Help Cameroon in Olympics Qualifying Bid
Sept. 16, 2011
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - -
Senior guard Ramses Lonlack got to watch her teammates handle international travel for the first time in their lives when the team flew to Italy this past August. Lonlack, a Cameroon native, is a seasoned international traveler, and will add another long series of flights to her repertoire later this week when she flies back to Cameroon to help her country's national team try to obtain a 2012 Olympic qualifying bid. She will join her national team for a second straight summer, this time competing in the 2011 Afrobasket Tournament in Bamako, Mali, from September 23rd to October 2nd.
"I'm really excited to go back and play for my country. This is what I have been waiting for since I went back home last summer," Lonlack said. "This is a really great opportunity for me to go back and represent my country and it's going to be fun. I'm going to go there and play as a Tiger and do everything I can to get us qualified."
"It's an incredible honor for American players who get to wear (represent their country) as well, but I think it's even more special for Ramses," Memphis head coach Melissa McFerrin said. "She gets to return to her home country so seldom, this is not only an opportunity for her to play the game of basketball and try to qualify for the Olympics, but it's an opportunity for her to play in front of her family, which she hasn't gotten to do in the entire, now near seven years of her career, both in high school and college. Ramses had not been home since December of her sophomore year in high school before she returned last summer. That's a lot to ask a young person, to go away from their family for nearly five years, so going back a second time and getting to play in front of her family, I think that makes it even more special."
The trip home will be a rare one for the college senior. Since leaving Cameroon as a high school sophomore, she has been back home just one time since, and that was last summer to play for the Cameroon National Team. Unlike her previous trip home though, Lonlack will have company on this journey, as UNLV's Sandrine Nzeukou will be travelling back to Cameroon with Lonlack as both play for the national team.
"It's going to be a really long trip," Lonlack said of the almost 25-hour journey. "I plan on taking two (compression) sleeves for my knees and I plan on taking some snacks, but as soon as I get there, I'm going to forget about the long ride, and I'm going to be ready."
Lonlack's family will meet her at the airport, and then will have to share her with the national team during the days the team will train.
"I'm going to try to see my family at night," Lonlack said. "They know that I am there to play, but I'm going to train in the morning and then try to get to see my family at night. I'm excited and I know they are excited to see me."
Cameroon will play in Group B in the tournament, with Senegal, Guinea, Angola, Nigeria and Rwanda. That group will be a challenge for Cameroon, as three of the four semifinalist teams in the recent All-Africa games were from Group B for the upcoming Afrobasket tournament (Angola, Nigeria and Senegal; Mozambique was the fourth semifinalist). Senegal defeated Angola in the finals of the All-Africa tournament, 64-57. Cameroon's game slate will open on Sept. 23rd against Angola, followed by a game on the 24th against Rwanda. A third game in three days will follow against Nigeria before the tournament has an off day on the 26th. Play will pick back upon the 27th against Guinea and Cameroon's five days of group play competition will wrap up against All-African games champion Senegal.
The championship team in the 12-team Afrobasket Tournament qualifies for one of 12 berths in the 2012 Olympic games in London next summer. The second and third place teams qualify for the 12-team Olympic qualifier tournament, June 25-July 1st. The 2012 Summer Olympic basketball slate begins on Friday, July 27th, 2012.
"Most of the people who are there (on the national team) right now were there last year," Lonlack said. "It's really nice because we've played together and know what we need to do to be successful on the court. I know it won't be easy. I know when you talk about basketball in Africa you talk about Senegal and Mali, so it's going to be tough for us, but we're going to do it. I know how I can fight hard to win and if we work hard to win as a team, we're going to have some success."
Lonlack, a civil engineering major at the University of Memphis, has been hard at work on trying to suit up for her national team since April, when her national team first approached her about a one month commitment that included both the All-African Games and the Afrobasket tournament. But Memphis head coach Melissa McFerrin felt one month would be too much class time missed, so she countered with the time Lonlack would need to compete in the Afrobasket tournament, the second of the two tournaments Cameroon had asked about, and the one that would help the country qualify for either an outright Olympic berth or one of two qualifying tournament berths. McFerrin put it all in Lonlack's hands to take to her civil engineering professors.
"This is potentially Olympic qualifying for the country of Cameroon, so this is not an opportunity that comes along very often, so we are very supportive. We're very excited for AQ to have this opportunity. I think any time you can wear the name of your home country across your chest, you wear it with pride, I know she certainly does," McFerrin said.
Lonlack went to each of her four civil engineering professors to see if they would support her getting an opportunity to play for her home country, at the cost of a week and a half of classes.
"I was really surprised how much the professors were happy for me to go play for my home country," Lonlack said. "They were really willing to help me and work with me when I get back and I was really appreciative about it. I told them I'm going to do what I can and when I come back I'm going to work really hard turning those assignments in that I missed."
A two-time Conference USA all-defensive team honoree, the senior guard is coming off a season that saw her average 9.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while again leading Memphis with 78 steals on the season. She moved to the Tiger top five in career steals, and despite being a player with a reputation for her tough, hard-nosed pressure defense, is now just 123 points from her 1,000th collegiate point (877 points in 98 career games), possibly becoming just the 21st women's basketball player in school history to score 1,000 or more career points.
"Her game as developed tenfold," McFerrin said. "She came here as a very motivated young person, very appreciative of the opportunity to be at the University of Memphis, and every day when she stepped on the floor, she proved that with her effort level. That effort level hasn't changed. We still see that every day from Ramses, but she has probably worked as hard on her game as any player we have had in our program. She may have had the farthest to go in terms of her skill set, but her ball-handling, her passing, her ability to now shoot a pull-up jumper and be very reliable at it, that forced us, a year ago, to loosen the reins on her just a little bit and really encouraged her to take that jumper because she had become very proficient at it. But obviously the first thing she does for our team is still get our defense started at the top of the floor and run the floor and create a threat in transition, and I don't know that anyone does those two things better, certainly in our program, and maybe, in a lot of past years, here at the University of Memphis."
Lonlack almost had an opportunity to get her Cameroon team a scouting report on one of its upcoming opponents, as Memphis and the Nigerian National team were slated to play one another just outside Como, Italy, when the Tigers toured the country last month. But visa issues apparently stranded the Nigerians in Belgium, so Lonlack never got to get a sneak peek at the future opponents.
"I was really excited to play them. I wanted to play them so I could know what to expect, but I will just have to do what I have to and I will do my best," Lonlack said. "The extra practice really helped me. I try to be in shape during the summer, practicing with the team, and the conditioning (here with the Tigers) have been really intense. I'm ready to go back and I'm ready to play and that's all I want to do. I'm ready physically and mentally I'm ready, I know that people are riding a lot on us since we did so poorly at the Africa All-games."
The Cameroon women's basketball national team is currently ranked No. 53 in the FIBA women's basketball rankings. Tournament host Mali is the highest ranked team in the Afrobasket 2011 tournament, at No. 18, with Senegal at No. 20. Nigeria is ranked 21st and Mozambique is ranked 34th. Angola (36th), Tunisia (43rd), Democratic Republic of Congo (44th),and Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast, 52nd) rank ahead of Cameroon and will be participating in the same tournament in hopes of an Olympic bid. In the All-Africa Games tournament, held the past two weeks, Cameroon went 0-5 in pool play without Lonlack at the head of its defense.
"It's not like we have something to prove, but I think we have to do better than what we did. I know we had some important people missing, but as a team we need to work hard to make an improvement and make sure that we come up with something out of that," Lonlack said. "I have been talking with coaches and players on the team now and they are saying where are you, the team is here and waiting for you," Lonlack said. "I told them I'm coming, I just need to take care of some stuff, my schoolwork and stuff like that. It's just a pleasure for me to go home. I'm really thankful Coach Melissa (McFerrin) gave me that. I know it's the middle of the semester, but everybody is in a hurry to see me and see what I bring."