“The first practice was difficult, physically and mentally… I had never been challenged at such a high level” recalls 27-year-old Lesego Goba, former captain of the Stony Brook University Seawolves Men’s Basketball team.
Standing tall at 6-feet, 7-inches and weighing in at 245 pounds, Goba isn’t far off from what someone would imagine when picturing a star basketball player, and one may think that it came naturally. However, that was far from the case for him.
Goba comes from a small village on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa that goes by the name of Inanda. The village lacks running water, modern plumbing, telephone service, and other amenities that Americans see as the norm for everyday life.
Early in life, Goba developed a deep passion for the game of basketball. With no facilities to play the game in his own village, he and his friends would regularly make the hour-long trek to a neighboring community to play at the only court in the area. The youths would play for hours, until the heat from the unforgiving South African sun would cause the youngsters to retreat for the day.
One day, a global nonprofit organization going by the name of PeacePlayers International (PPI) established an extension of their program in the region. It was here where he found the opportunity to share his passion for the game with the regions youths as a coach, a position that he happily filled for two years.
When a PPI coworker arranged for Goba to fly to Washington D.C. in 2005 to participate in a tournament by the American Athletic Union (AAU), he jumped at the opportunity. It was at that very tournament that his life would be forever changed upon meeting Stony Brook University’s Steve Pikiell.
At this point in time, Pikiell was the newly hired head coach for Seawolves basketball, and he immediately took interest in Goba when scouting for recruits at the AAU tournament.
“He was one of my first recruits. I was signed [to the University] in May and we recruited him shortly after.” Pikiell recalled fondly. “He’s the best kid I’ve ever recruited or ever been around, one in a million… Quality kid, quality worker, smart, appreciative, determined. As good as you could ever ask for.”
Just as Pikiell took to Goba, Goba immediately took to Pikiell as well.
“He personified a genuine character and he had genuine interest in me, not only as a student-athlete, but as a human being. I wanted to join his journey of improving Stony Brook Men’s basketball, along with starting my journey towards a career in healthcare,” said Goba.
Pikiell continued to have a vested interest in Goba, both on and off the court, even securing an athletic scholarship for him so he can attend the university, where he played Seawolves basketball for years, eventually becoming captain of the team.
Throughout his journey, he has cited Pikiell’s influence as a great motivating factor in pushing him forward. “They [Pikiell and the team] strengthened my mental toughness, extended my limits I had set for myself and prepared me to move through life in a much smoother fashion: being unrattled by ‘disappointments’ and rising to the challenge and meeting it eye-level with confidence,” said Goba.
In his time at Stony Brook University, Goba excelled both as a basketball player and as a student.
Over the course of his athletic career, he played in a total of 100 games, was named to the 2010 America East All-Academic team, and rose to be the captain of the Seawolves men’s basketball team.
In 2010 he was the first player in program history to be named the America East Scholar-Athlete, a title that carried with it the requirement of being a starting player as well as maintaining a 3.30 cumulative grade point average in order to be eligible.
In addition to formal awards, the former scholar-athlete also has garnered seemingly universal praise from those he came to know in the program.
“I’m not speaking just on behalf of basketball, but the whole department, there aren’t a lot of kids that are as great or as determined as he is on and off the court… I’ve been doing this 23 years and I’ve never come across another kid like him… he really is one of our all time best.” said Pikiell.
Off the court, Goba excelled as a student, originally pursuing a degree in philosophy before eventually changing his area of study to one that has been a lifelong interest of his; healthcare. He graduated on time in four years with a B.S. in public health before returning for a second B.S., this time in nursing.
Goba has since taken his lifelong interest and new degrees and turned them into a career, now working as a full-time medical professional at the very same institution that gave him his start and trained him.
Working as an RN in the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP) at Stony Brook Medicine, Goba is part of a specialized program within the hospital that works to provide evaluations, intervention, referral and treatment for patients who demonstrate the need for emergency psychiatric care, which he feels is a tough yet rewarding job.
“I work comprehensively with doctors, social workers, nurse practitioners and nurse’s aides to evaluate patient’s mental status, provide patient safety (from others and from themselves), attend to patient needs, advocate for patient concerns, provide medical treatment as ordered, create and maintain a therapeutic relationship all in efforts to stabilize the patient” he said.
Throughout his entire journey, he has had the simple goal of “creating (and maintaining) love, peace and happiness” in his life, and sees everything else, from winning a championship in basketball, to working in psychiatry at Stony Brook Medicine, as a means to accomplishing that end.
At the end of the day, he feels that the universe has a way of creating opportunities for those that need them, and that if you truly do want something, then you just need to go for it, even if it seems incredibly hard or even impossible. I like to believe that Life works in our favor, in one way or the other.” he said.