We caught up with Nudier Mena about his love of basketball and how it runs in the family!
How is it that you became interested in basketball?
Everything began when I was little and saw my dad play. He was always a great basketball player and was a center just like me, although oftentimes he played as forward because of his agility with the ball. That he was much better at than me!
I remember I was 5 years old when my dad started taking my brothers and me to the majority of his games. Almost every time at the end of the game we stayed afterward to practice dribbling and certain positions that he knew were critical to being a good player. My love for this beautiful sport continued to grow over the years, and when I was about 12, I tried out for the teams in Chocó. I also was selected by the high school in my hometown, Quibdó- Chocó.
When I finished high school, I traveled to the city of Medellín to start my graduate studies, but I never expected to go pro with basketball. I come from a conservative family that teaches you that you need to study, prepare yourself professionally so you can have a better life. Sports are a matter of luck – at one moment you can be at the top of your game, but an injury can ruin all your dreams and end your career early.
In 2005, I started studying engineering and the Metropolitan Technical Institute. 6 months later, someone saw me and invited me to some tryouts in which I was competing against members of the Antioquia (regional) basketball team. Those players had dedicated their whole lives to basketball, but fortunately my skills with the ball landed me a spot on the team. Being part of the team helped me pay for school. The university helped me with 60% of the tuition, and I paid 40%, which for me was a huge help. Not only could I keep playing the sport I love, but I could also support my parents with the costs.
After playing on that team for a year, I decided to retire because I realized all the hours of training and playing were conflicting with my school work. My grades were not the best so I gave up my time on the court.
What do you enjoy most about the sport?
I enjoy everything about it! You can’t put such passion into words, you just have to live it!
What is the basketball community like in Colombia?
Traditionally, basketball hasn’t been one of the most popular sports in Colombia. Maybe that’s why it’s been slower to grow and develop a fanbase compared to other sports like soccer, cycling, or skating.
There’s a lack of management coming from basketball organizations, educational initiatives, and the government to expand the community because the support always goes to soccer.
The advantage that we have in this country is that we have very skilled potential athletes. What we’re missing is someone to go around to the different regions and seek out such talent and train them to be superstars. However, we are also lacking sufficient training facilities or the minimum requirements needed to practice. I think that an alliance between all the athletic entities in the country would help make us a dominant basketball force, like in Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela. But that definitely requires greater direction and support than what we’re seeing now.
However, there are some rules that help promote the sport among the youth. For example, there’s a rule that national teams have to have at least one player who is under the age of 21. That opens up the opportunity to kids to consider playing basketball professionally.
Which teams or players do you idolize the most?
Definitely Lebron James. He’s one of the best offensive players of all time. Ever since he was drafted by the NBA in 2003, he’s consistently been a top player and leader in the sport. He emits a calm confidence to the rest of the team.
The King (Lebron’s nickname) is a combination of athletic skill on both a technical and physical level that has never been seen before. Even though this is evident from any perspective, the best is when he attacks the hoop. Good dribbling plus all of his skill make it impossible to defend him.
Do you still practice to this day?
Yes, but not with the same intensity of skill that I used to have, mostly due to an ankle injury. I’d rather be in the stands than out on the court. It’s too painful for me to play now.