The Sunday Mail
Deputy Sports Editor
LOCATED just a short drive away from Arcadia Shops is the Rita D’Almeida Basketball Courts: one of the oldest remaining structures for Zimbabwe’s basketball community.
It was once the home of such teams as Arcadia Knicks, Sixers, Earthquakes and Trackers.
The courts are most famous for housing Arcadia Bucs, which is considered one of the most dominant teams to come out of Zimbabwe and, in the “perfect storm” of late 80s and 90s, gained a cult following that made the likes of Kimon Raftopolous, Tony Greenland, Edgar Rogers, Gerry Raftopolous, Felix Galloway, Oscar Martins, Eddie Merten, Ellery Pinkerton and Denzil Chalmers household names.
The litany of stars to come out of the Bucs franchise is inexhaustible and stretches over three decades of dominance. Names such as Koolsum Dhan, Heather Galloway, Beauty Roberts, Farida Canry, Shereen Eason and the late Juliet Raftopolous make up some of the “Invincibles’’ squads of the Bucs franchise.
But that was then.
Now the court is in a dilapidated state, with the franchise having been disbanded, only to be resurrected in 2013.
The onus has been inherited by the younger generation led by Dexter Ganga — the current captain of Arcadia Bucs — who, like most millennials, is a bit unsure of the history of the club.
This can only be known by more seasoned campaigners like Patrick Galloway, Creon Raftopolous and Craig Manuel.
“Well, I was born and raised here in Braeside, but only joined Bucs upon its resurrection in 2013.
“My earliest memories of these courts are as a 10-year-old, when I would come (and) watch some of the senior players on Sundays. “This is a very rich club in terms of history, and it has been my honour to play for them now.
“When I first joined, the team was mostly made up of locals, but we have since lost some and attracted more from different parts of Harare.
“We spent about a season or two in the ‘B’ League, after which we gained promotion and have been in the top six since.
“The goal, however, is to compliment works being done to refurbish the complex and once again dominate.
“It doesn’t look it, owing to the Covid-19 lockdown and subsequent neglect, but a lot of work is being put into the courts, with fresh paint and fixing some of our courts, grounds and structures,” Ganga said. Creon Raftopolous is now based in the United Kingdom, where he is head coach of 2018 BBL All-star champions, Surrey Scorchers.
The 46-year-old comes from a largely basketball family.
Both his parents are former Basketball Union of Zimbabwe members and ex-coaches of both Arcadia Bucs and the Zimbabwe senior men and women teams. “I come from a predominately basketball family; holding my first ball when I was 10 years old, after which I started playing competitively when I was 14,” said Creon.
“I played for Bucs during the team’s transitional era, in the1990s, but still managed to play with some of the greats of the club like Alistair Rosen and Hilary Gilbert.
“Coincidentally, I was part of the team when they won their last title, and that was in 1995, but (I) still hold my time with them in high regard.
“My father together with people like Edgar Rogers and former Zimbabwe Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa were some of the first members of the club, and played their small roles in the construction of the Arcadia basketball courts.
“They were later christened the Rita D’Almeida Basketball Courts in honour of the chief beneficiary,” he said.
During the club’s long history, there were two main phases: winning the title between 1983 and 1986, and later in 1995.
Their main rivals were Tee Cavaliers, which was led by the late duo of Ronald Garura and Hugh Hofisi during the 1990s.
Others who starred for the Bucs’ golden age include Terry Galloway and current coach Craig Manuel.
Galloway is a former Dynamos football player and was a member of the Bucs roaster between 1982 and 1988.
The 57-year-old holds the distinction of being the club’s first mascot.
“I come from a very sporting family, where practically nine of us played football or basketball at the highest level. Of the nine, my sister Heather and I both captained the national basketball teams,” said Galloway.
“It was my dream from that tender age of 10 that I would one day play for Arcadia Bucs.
“I am originally from the area and Bucs was the best team in the land at the time.
“I joined the team in August 1982 as the 12th player, and only spent about three months before I was given a regular place in the first 10.
“My coach at the time (Greenland) somehow had a great deal of confidence in my abilities and I will never forget the first time he told me I was starting.
“I was so nervous, emotional and afraid. “When I think of Bucs today, I can’t help but smile with joy and gratitude.
“I owe a lot of what I am today to the time spent at Bucs as it gave me the platform and made me what I am today.
“The attributes, the life’s lesson that I took away cannot be measured. I became a community icon because of sport and it was heart-warming when I drove in the community and children would actually be greeting me and calling my name,” he said.
Galloway was part of the team during its 1982 to 1986 dominant seasons, winning his first title during his debut season. Manuel also speaks of the Bucs with the same level of gratitude and honour.
“It became a dream of mine to play for Bucs after watching them play against the Harlem Globetrotters at City Sports Centre.
“Every aspiring young player would want to play for the best team in the country, and the Bucs franchise had a rich history and a strong culture.
“I compare it to every football youngster yearning to play for Liverpool or Manchester United; such was the significance of Bucs,” Manuel said.
Manuel is one of the many giving back to the team that gave them so much.
“I have a basketball family today, with my wife a former Trackers player, and I am currently at the Helm of Arcadia Bucs.
“I coach the men and ladies’ teams in the A leagues, while my wife coaches the Arcadia Cubs developmental side.
“I have been truly blessed and hope to carry on passing the legacy of Arcadia Bucs to the next generation,” he said.