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27 June
07 July, 2019
17 Amanda Zahui (SWE) | Photo: Sofia Andersson
17/05/2019
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Zahui: Nausea and nerves, a ticket to Tokyo and the joy of Johannes

STOCKHOLM (Sweden) - Her mouth was drying up, her heart was thumping like crazy, butterflies were in her stomach and her entire body was shaking with an indescribable level of nervousness.

"I was completely out of my comfort zone," confesses Amanda Zahui as she recalls the night when she caused a sensation at the Swedish TV Awards.

The EuroLeague Women and WNBA star catapulted herself into the consciousness of the mainstream media in her homeland after an inspiring acceptance speech at the prestigious event; having been the recipient of a Sports Motivation Award.

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Wow vilka Gäris! 🙌🏽 grymt baskethäng i Vårby ikväll! ⭐️ #basketgäris #lokaheroes

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Harnessing her appeal as a role model for those at the grass roots level, the Sopron Basket standout had been recognized for being involved with the 'Basket Garis in Varby' initiative to get more girls from an ethnically diverse Stockholm suburb to participate in sports.

NAUSEA AND NERVES

"On the night itself before going on stage, I was feeling so physically sick that I was wearing heels and I had to take them off as I could not even walk," revealed Zahui.

"I was shaking the whole time I was up there. I could really feel it and I forgot some parts of my speech in my head that I really wanted to say. I am always having fun on the court, yet having to walk up onto that stage and knowing it was live on television - plus then all those strangers faces in the audience staring back at me, meant I was absolutely scared.

"It was also nerve wracking because I didn't really know where I should be looking, how my body should sit, how my voice was sounding. Whenever I am on the court, I know about those things and I am happy always being with my girls and doing what we do."

It's clear that this was an evening that Zahui will never forget. Indeed, it was an occasion that also left an indelible mark on many others too, with countless people left inspired by her words.

Yet the levels of nervousness she endured during the experience were nothing compared to the surprise that came immediately after her appearance and also in the subsequent days that followed.

"It was absolutely beautiful. I did not expect to get that kind of amazing reaction," confirmed Zahui.

"I had written down my speech and sent it in and they told me it was going to be huge. I thought they were only saying that to be nice and to make me feel at ease. Then, I did actually get a lot of positive feedback.

"I remember going home and I had not been on my phone all night and it absolutely exploded. I couldn't believe what was going on. It was just crazy.

"I actually couldn't even bring myself to watch the speech at that point because I was still so nervous to hear what I sounded like.  All I could think about is how different it was going to be to watching game highlights - where I am supposed to be getting that rebound or making that play.

"Then I quickly realized it was time to humble myself. Sure, it's a great feeling to have all that appreciation, but it was not about me. At the end of the day, the speech was for everyone else that is going through a struggle and especially those that feel they can't talk about it."

 
An added dimension is that the profile of Zahui has now been elevated to a new tier. This means she is inevitably going to be asked for her opinion more and more on social and cultural topics – something that could prove to be a double-edged sword.

"It's true that it has went from me playing basketball and being able to say whatever I want, to people now watching and looking out for me and my views - even though they have never even seen me play," she mused.

"I am never going to stop being myself, or will never keep quiet about anything that I feel is important. But, I also have to now think more about the added responsibility.

"I truly believe that playing basketball is just one reason I am here in this life and the other is to make sure I can give some hope to some people. By stepping onto this new platform, it means I have to think about what I say more carefully, but it also means I can maybe influence things more and help more people."

(For more on the speech click HERE)

A TICKET TO TOKYO

As she prepares to make a long-awaited debut at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket, Zahui is about to push her profile even more skywards. There is a feeling that Sweden could post a deep run in the competition and if they do, she will surely have a big hand in it because of her scoring and rebounding power.

"I am looking to bring my 'A Game' and to be myself - also to not put too much pressure on me," said Zahui.

"We have an open communication among each other within the national team. We all give each other advice and they all support me and hype me up - they want me to be a beast.

"We are trying to punch our ticket to the Olympics. We are looking towards the second round and then to keep on going. We have a bunch of players with killer instincts and we want to win.

"We're going to show it to everybody and we're going to put Sweden back on the map," she warned.

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🌪.

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The wider significance for Zahui and Sweden is that they are actively pursuing a role as co-hosts in 2021, so a good showing would be timely if they get the green light they crave.

"It would be awesome to host and when we played Croatia at home in the Qualifiers, we played in one of the biggest Arenas in Sweden," she stated.

"It was a total success and besides us as a team, I think everybody around it had a blast and I can only imagine hosting something so big. It would great for our culture, not only our basketball culture, but women's sport in Sweden.

"I think it shows that we are on the up and rising, and I am so happy to be part of that," reiterated Zahui.

THE JOY OF JOHANNES

As well as Final Round, Zahui can also look forward to another WNBA campaign with the New York Liberty, where the European flavour has gotten stronger with the arrival of French ace, Marine Johannes.

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Ayyyyye, that Friday #LibertyLoud feeling!

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Like everyone else, the center is intrigued by the possibilities for her new team-mate and can't wait to see how things progress during the summer of 2019.

Zahui said: "I am so excited, since I am a big fan of hers and I'm looking forward to seeing her on the next level and being coached by one of the best in Coach (Katie) Smith.

"I can only see her blossoming into a player at the very top level. I am excited about seeing this happen right in front of my eyes. She needs to play with the same confidence that she plays with in Europe."

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Welcome to 🗽@marinej5! Read more at nyliberty.com

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Not so long ago, Zahui was instrumental in helping her Sopron Basket side shatter the EuroLeague Women Final Four dreams of Johannes and Bourges. Now their paths are destined to cross again at the Final Round, when they will be going into battle against each other for their respective nations in Group B.

Yes, it looks like there will be plenty of talking points between the Liberty duo on those long WNBA road trips. And, with Johannes also very much moving into the French mainstream media too and also racking up awards, perhaps they will have a lot more than basketball to discuss.

Nerves, nausea and tickets to Tokyo may well be on the menu.

FIBA