Petua Mukimba relishing last Amherst girls basketball season

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  • Amherst senior power forward and center Petua Mukimba, right, joins fellow starters, from left, Daizany Mares, Tessa Kawall, Sara Hastie and Delaney MacPhetres, during introductions before the Hurricanes’ game against Westfield last Wednesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst senior Petua Mukimba, left, brings the ball up the floor against Morgan Fillion of Westfield in the first half of the Hurricanes’ win over the visiting Bombers last Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst senior center and power forward Petua Mukimba, center, and teammates play defense against Westfield in the first half of their win over the visiting Bombers on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. From left, in white for the Hurricanes, are senior Audrey Bowen, freshman Zola Higham, Mukimba, and sophomores Daizany Mares and Sara Hastie. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst senior power forward and center Petua Mukimba talks with coach Ralph Loos in the first half of Hurricanes' home win over Westfield on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst senior center Petua Mukimba, right, grabs a rebound from Westfield's Chandler Pedolzky, left, and Alyssa Piper in the third quarter of the Hurricanes' win over the visiting Bombers on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Also in on the play is Amherst sophomore Audrey Bowen. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst senior Petua Mukimba (25) and teammates stand for the national anthem before the Hurricanes' home match against Westfield on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst senior center Petua Mukimba, right, grabs a rebound from Westfield's Chandler Pedolzky, left, and Alyssa Piper in the third quarter of the Hurricanes' win over the visiting Bombers on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Also in on the play is Amherst sophomore Audrey Bowen. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst senior Petua Mukimba (25) and teammates, from left, Genesis Cruz-Castro, Mayouri Yath, Zola Higham, Delaney MacPhetres and Sara Hastie, stand for the national anthem before the Hurricanes’ home game against Westfield last Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 2/8/2021 5:16:38 PM

Petua Mukimba didn’t get many presents for Christmas. Being from a single-parent, immigrant family, that didn’t bother the Amherst Regional senior. All she really wanted was to play basketball for one more season.

By that point her mom, Mary Mukimba, was getting tired of hearing about it. She watched her younger children, sophomores Philip and Felicity Wababa, play soccer in the fall and was nervous about the safety of indoor sports. Mary Mukimba didn’t want anyone playing basketball during a pandemic.

Two days before tryouts on Jan. 9, she acquiesced.

“I was so happy about that. I had to be nice to her for a couple months,” Petua Mukimba joked. “I wanted to play so badly. She knows how much I love basketball. Basketball has been my life since I was five years old.”

Not after this season. Mukimba won’t play in college, even though she could. Instead, she’ll study civil engineering at Columbia, a field that would allow her to create every day structures like roads, buildings and bridges that keep people safe.

“One of my goals in life is to create a physical environment that allows everyone to thrive,” Mukimba said. “I really like seeing in the ways my effort and works affect society.”

Mukimba said she recognizes the lack of Black women like her in science, engineering and mathematics fields and wants to show kids from her background that they can do anything they want to do without sacrificing the things that make them unique. Society has always needed engineers, and the demand isn’t going anywhere.

“It’ll be a great and steady career to build generational wealth for my family and community,” Mukimba said.

Before she goes to New York, Mukimba wanted one last basketball season with her teammates. She’s been on Amherst’s varsity team since eighth grade. 

Erin Klaes, who graduated last year and is now at Springfield College, played with Mukimba for four years.

“She’s one of the kindest, most selfless people I’ve ever met,” Klaes said. “She always made sure to make it to practice. Sometimes it wasn’t the easiest for her to make it to practice.”

Mary Mukimba raised her three kids as a single mother. She emigrated from Uganda to Portland, Oregon, then moved to Amherst to obtain a PhD in education in 2002. She now works as a special education paraeducator in the Amherst district.

“Especially with getting into Columbia this year, she’s like ‘It’s paid off, everything I’ve done,’” Petua Mukimba said of her mother.

Petua Mukimba suffered a shoulder injury her sophomore season but still showed up to practices and games, encouraging her teammates. Sometimes that meant arriving at school with her mother when it opened and staying there until as late as 8 p.m. if the Hurricanes practiced late.

“She still had the positive outlook on life still cheering us on when she could have stayed home,” Klaes said.

During practice, Mukimba doesn’t draw attention to herself. She’ll offer a wry comment or one-liner during drills and occasionally push back respectfully when she disagrees with the coaching staff.

“When she says something, it has weight to it,” Amherst head coach Ralph Loos said. “It’s not like Petua’s preaching to them all the time, but when she says something, everything stops.”

She more often leads by example. Mukimba played through another injury most of last season, and offseason surgery cost her the spring and summer AAU season. She played for the Mass Frenzy program, where Loos also coaches. He was familiar with her before taking the job in Amherst.

“She’s always been sort of introspective, a kid that definitely thinks things through,” Loos said. “I’m here to help her. I just want her to have a great year in the most weird of times.”

Amherst has won all six games its played so far this season.

Mukimba plays power forward or center interchangeably for Amherst. She’s undersized for a post but uses her smarts, speed and handles to compensate. Junior Delaney MacPhetres and Mukimba have shared the floor since sixth grade. They love running high-low passes and cutting backdoor for each other.

“We’re going to miss her a lot next year not having her presence around,” MacPhetres said.

Mukimba will occasionally bring the ball up the floor and run the point for the Hurricanes if they have the right matchup. She sees passes before they happen, leaving defenses guessing.

“Being able to be a step ahead and know what the other person is thinking is something I really like,” Mukimba said. “I think I see that in the real world, too.”

It’s why she’s not going to play basketball at Columbia. Sports were part of her initial calculus when considering colleges. Then she learned about QuestBridge, a nonprofit that provides full scholarships to low-income students for its college partners. Mukimba realized that could allow her to go somewhere like MIT, Swarthmore, Wellesley or Columbia.

“I had to re-evaluate my priorities. Basketball wasn’t top on my list,” Mukimba said. “I thought maybe I’d be able to also play basketball, but it would have been too difficult.”

She was accepted by Columbia on Dec. 1.

“I was so happy. I decided, I’m good. I’m going to an amazing college in New York City,” Mukimba said. “I’ll have to work, I’ll have so much to do.”

That won’t be anything new. She’s a member of both the People of Color United club and Minority Student Achievement organization at Amherst. When she was injured as a sophomore, Mukimba took Amherst’s restorative justice class that sought alternative solutions to suspension or expulsion as forms of punishment.

“That was a real life-changing thing for me because it helped me see the world differently,” Mukimba said.

She started the Community Youth Action club her junior year, which seeks to create a space for young people to step into leadership roles and create projects that matter to them. It’s centered around action. Before the pandemic, they created a workshop for teachers to teach third-grade students about climate change.

Her activism isn’t constrained to the school, either. Mukimba attended two protests over the summer to address racial inequality in the wake of police killing George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. One was the Educators for Black Lives Rally, and the second was a youth protest, where she read a poem.

“We’re tired of this narrative that we’re this progressive town, but there’s still issues in Amherst that we didn’t think were being addressed,” she said. “Amherst is a great town, but there’s still things I’ve seen, heard and experienced that needed to be heard and talked about.”

A full schedule has forced Mukimba to budget and manage her time effectively. Basketball has always helped organize her days. She knows that if she has to be at practice 15 minutes before it starts, she’d do homework right after school. Nights are reserved for engaging with herself and her own learning.

“It’s a work in progress, definitely. I go mostly on a day to day basis. I have a month planned, and everything can change. I learned that from my mom,” Mukimba said. “I like being prepared, but I also like being able to handle what comes at me.”

She can run the play her coaches call, but finesse a solution when it breaks down.

“I don’t think I see the world always about basketball,” Mukimba said. “But when I think about the things I like about myself, I see a lot of them come from basketball.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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