Lewis leading basketball growth in Cook Islands
AVARUA (Cook Islands) - Keziah Lewis is one of the leaders of the Cooks Islands national basketball team, but outside of her play on the court she is also making a difference in her home country as an ambassador to the sport.
Lewis moved back to the Cook Islands before the start of the Pacific Games in 2019, to accept her position as a National Olympic Committee financial planning manager and also secretary to the Cook Islands Basketball Federation.
"I moved back right before the Pacific Games last year. I've always loved it here, I feel like it's the right time for me to give back to the country. We have experienced a lot of good things representing Cooks in international competitions that have taken me all over the world with my teammates," said Lewis. "We wish we can also provide the same pathway for young girls in the future."
Lewis has represented Cook's in several international competitions including the 2018 FIBA Polynesia Cup, and 2019 Pacific Games both held in Samoa. The country also qualified for the 2016 FIBA 3x3 World Cup in China with her sister Adoniah Lewis as one of the players on the team.
Photo: 2018 FIBA Polynesia Cup Gold Medal winners, Cook Islands
Lewis admitted that basketball is a developing sport in the country but the Federation is determined to create a pathway for girls playing the sport, and the recent success of the national team has helped in growing interest locally.
The 25-year old helped the Cook Islands take the Gold Medal in the 2018 "Poly Cup" and a Silver Medal in the Pacific Games 3x3 event last year.
"Our success as a team kind of helped us going into schools in the Cook Islands. We saw more girls wanting to try out basketball. When I started it was hard to invite them to the courts but after our win in the Pacific Games we had more participants in our programs," said Lewis.
One of the important aspects to Lewis and the Federation's goals is to help develop basketball at the grassroots level including a women's program that can ride the momentum their generation has built over the years.
"Our goal is to develop more people that are living here right now. We want to establish a basketball culture in the islands, and hopefully, we can have a future team that can take over when we're done," Lewis said.
"In a perfect world a fully Cook Islands-based team will represent the country and be competitive in international competitions," she added.
Photo: Cook Islands Women's team in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa
Lewis was one of the regular participants of the Youth Coaching Webinar series organized by FIBA in Oceania and shared that the NOC and the Federation are planning youth-based programs based on their experience and learnings from the webinar sessions.
"We have planned youth programs that will happen when the holiday arrives and have partnered with schools including Tereora College, Nukutere College, and Titikaveka College in the coming months and we are all excited about it," shared the 2018 FIBA Polynesia Cup MVP.
Despite the challenges in terms of popularity compared to sports like Rugby and Netball in the country, Lewis envisions a future where basketball is a way of life for the island country, and rest assured the passionate Cook Islander will be one of the leaders in the revolution.
"We know the challenge ahead but we are determined to change the narrative about basketball and hopefully change the outlook on basketball. We have gained momentum because of our success in competitions now we have to work and use that momentum and growing the game even further," she determinedly said.