BUJUMBURA - For a 23-year old, Ines Nezerwa has already surpassed the achievements of many African female basketball players living on the continent.
"I want to go professional and play basketball in the USA because that is where basketball is played at the highest level. It is my dream." - Nezerwa
Commonly known as "Giti" - which loosely translates as a tree, in reference to her domineering height - Nezerwa started playing basketball in her senior one class at Lycee SOS High School in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura in 2007.
"The coach of Berco Stars at the time, Lazard Niyonkuru, told me to start playing basketball because of my height. I decided to follow his advice since it would be a good adventure," Nezerwa told FIBA.com.
Her passion and commitment to improve her game at every training session has seen her slowly and steadily become the most lethal center in the East African region.
You know her presence in that paint but Ines Nezerwa, the Burundian center dropped 34 points. Some mad stats right there. ??? https://t.co/QhRMr58fez
— Usher Komugisha (@UsherKomugisha) 4 October 2016
Nezerwa has been leading the way for Berco Stars, guiding them to six national league titles in her eight years at the Bujumbura-based club.
With all of this success under her belt, she quickly started envisioning herself playing at the regional level and she got her first opportunity at the 2009 edition of the FIBA Africa Champions Cup for Women (ACCW) Zone 5 qualifier at the tender age of 16.
Since then she has participated at every edition of Africa's top competition for clubs and rightly so. At last year's event in Kigali, she guided Berco Stars to their first regional tournament after defeating KCCA of Uganda in a highly contested tie.
In light of the ongoing political unrest in her home country and the lack of funds to sponsor their trip to the 2016 edition in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Nezerwa opted to play for Ubumwe of Rwanda.
"I joined Ubumwe because I am studying a Bachelors Degree in Applied Statistics at the University of Rwanda in Huye and to go back and forth to play for Berco Stars in Burundi was not feasible for me," she explained. "Of course it makes me very sad that I am unable to play for Berco Stars because they failed to get funds to travel and as the reigning champions, this was not good for us."
Nezerwa then took it upon herself to represent Burundi in Dar es Salaam and helped Ubumwe to finish in third place.
She may have missed qualification to return to the ACCW but her stellar performance against the UCU Lady Canons of Uganda in last week's FIBA Africa Zone 5 qualifiers will remain ingrained in the minds of many fans in Dar es Salaam.
Nezerwa emerged as top scorer at the tournament but it was her 45 points against the university side that left everyone pondering about her efficiency and offensive role against even the best in the business.
She wishes there was more support for women's basketball back home because she believes her country has very talented players who need more assistance in terms of infrastructure and technical guidance.
"After I finish my Bachelors Degree next year, I want to go professional and play basketball in the USA because that is where basketball is played at the highest level. It is my dream."
Just like Nezerwa, many Burundian young players want to play at the highest level and if given a chance, she thinks they can come good.