Former UMass point guard Destiney Philoxy plays for Rwanda in AfroBasket tournament

  • Former UMass point guard Destiney Philoxy, right, competes for Rwanda at the recent AfroBasket tournament. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/DON MUGABI

  • Former UMass point guard Destiney Philoxy, in glasses, poses with fans of Rwanda at the recent AfroBasket tournament. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/DON MUGABI

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2023 4:54:07 PM

Fresh off proving people wrong at UMass, recent graduate Destiney Philoxy picked up right where she left off with Team Rwanda in the most recent AfroBasket tournament.

Philoxy, whose mother and grandmother were both born in Rwanda, was invited to try out for the team at the beginning of June and was one of the lucky few to make the cut to compete in the women’s AfroBasket tournament. AfroBasket is Africa’s biennial continental championship, hosted every two years and overseen by FIBA.

Philoxy lucked out in her first year playing for Team Rwanda – in addition to playing for Africa’s biggest basketball prize, she was also a member of the home team; Rwanda hosted the tournament this year for the first time in the country’s history.

Historically, Rwanda hasn’t had the greatest success in AfroBasket. Prior to the 2023 tourney, the team had qualified just twice and placed ninth both times. Philoxy and her teammates were determined to change that this year.

“Our first game, there wasn’t a lot of people there because people didn’t really believe Rwanda was gonna show out this year, so there wouldn’t be a lot of fans. It was like UMass, when people didn’t believe we were going to show out. Then next thing you know they start coming out of nowhere because we started winning and they started believing again,” Philoxy said. “That’s what happened in Rwanda. They started believing after our first win.”

Team Rwanda and Philoxy made a statement with their first game against Cote d’Ivoire, cruising to a 64-35 win. Philoxy led the team in scoring with 18 points, going 3-for-5 at the three-point line and dishing out seven assists along with a pair of boards. Philoxy, or ‘DP’ as her teammates called her, quickly became a breakout star of the tournament. Over the course of five games, Philoxy averaged 17.4 points per game and 32.1 minutes a contest. In addition to starring on the floor, Philoxy also took more of a leadership role with the team, teaching them different strategies she learned at UMass and doing her best to impart the “hungry” mentality the Minutewomen also had.

“I expected to be led when I first came there. And I expected to have people to look up to and people to help motivate me, but I ended up switching roles and becoming the leader, which was totally fine,” Philoxy said. “I adjusted and I’ve been leading at UMass, so it wasn’t as hard. I’m just doing the same thing, just with people of different ages.”

After winning their first game against Cote d’Ivoire but dropping the second to Angola 74-68, Rwanda faced a fierce test in the quarterfinals against their rival Uganda. It was a personal match, especially since Uganda fans were chanting “We want Rwanda!” the previous day while the Rwanda team sat in the stands. Rwanda emerged victorious in a tight 66-61 win, and Philoxy put up 16 points to help move her squad to the semifinals.

The team dropped its next two games, finishing fourth overall. The finish was both a huge step forward and also a disappointment for Philoxy, who came in with the hunger and expectation to take the whole thing. Despite that, Philoxy enjoyed her time with Rwanda, particularly realizing what an impact she had on some of the country’s youngest fans.

“I was trying to get a burger upstairs in the concession stand, and this little kid, he was like four years old, he screamed and he ran to me….he was like ‘DP, DP! I love you!’” Philoxy said. “I was just in shock because he was really young and he said my name like he knew me and he was happy. He was like, ‘Teach me shoot, teach me shoot!’ Talking into the little fans, the younger ones and seeing them smile was one of the best moments.”

Philoxy expects to return and don the Rwanda jersey again sometime in the future, but her basketball journey won’t stop there. She has plans in place to join another team, though she’s keeping the specifics under wraps until everything gets finalized in the next week or so.

In the meantime, she’s working on getting everything squared away before she leaves for her new team. One of her top priorities – getting some McDonald’s fries that she missed so much while in Rwanda. It’s the little things.

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.

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