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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Chance African Reunion a Highlight for ODU Graduate Working for NBA

As part of the delegation making the historic visit to South Africa by the National Basketball Association last month, Chris Pantoya thought there was something familiar about the energetic female African basketball player serving as a coach of a Junior NBA clinic.

Pantoya, an Old Dominion graduate who has worked with the NBA since January, marveled at the enthusiastic, playful way in which the player interacted with child campers at the Basketball without Borders camp in Johannesburg.

A conversation with the player, Clarisse Machanguana, solved the mystery for Pantoya.

"We were talking and Clarisse, who is from Mozambique, mentioned how she played college basketball in the United States, at a university called Old Dominion. I was like, 'Wait a minute!'" Pantoya said.

Two decades earlier, Pantoya was a student at Old Dominion, first studying Spanish, then doing her M.B.A. She regularly attended Lady Monarch basketball games at the former Field House.

Machanguana was part of the "Portuguese Connection," along with former All-American Ticha Penicheiro, that starred on Wendy Larry's Old Dominion teams that contended for national titles in that decade.

"It was so great to make that connection, and pretty amazing. They were great teams to watch when I was at Old Dominion," said Pantoya, who moved to the NBA from Verizon to help the league with mobile strategy as the league becomes increasingly global.

The NBA became the first of North America's four professional leagues to host an exhibition game on the African continent, when Team World, captained by eight-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul, defeated Team Africa 101-97. The game featured appearances by Hall of Famers and African legends Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo.

The game took place following the 13th edition of Basketball without Borders Africa, the NBA and FIBA's global basketball development and community outreach program that has reached 1,000 campers from 31 African countries since 2003. With more than 100 current NBA players born outside of the United States, the outreach is an effort to grow the game of basketball internationally and share the sport's values across cultures.

Pantoya was part of the NBA delegation because the league's mobile strategy is linked closely with the global expansion of the game. "We are starting to expand to countries like India, and places on the African continent. As we do that, there's an understanding that some of these markets are mobile first. The league wants to connect fans worldwide as efficiently as we can," she said.

For a life-long sports fan, the journey from Old Dominion to NBA executive is a dream for Pantoya. "It has been really wonderful. I do feel like I've been fortunate."

The encounter with Machanguana was also a reminder of how small the world is. "It was just so wonderful meeting Clarisse. She seems like a great person," Pantoya said.

After graduating from Old Dominion, Machanguana played professional basketball for 22 years in the United States, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Brazil, France and Korea. Fluent in four languages, Machanguana recently published her first book aimed at inspiring young people to pursue their dreams. Now living once again in Mozambique, Machanguana seeks to motivate a generation of young people to pursue their dreams through the powerful vehicles of sports, health and education.

As part of that effort, she is walking the length of the country to raise awareness of HIV testing and access to healthcare.

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