LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Tshilidzi ‘Chili’ Nephawe has had a lot of big moments in his life that surround basketball. From 2007 when Nephawe first started playing basketball and was invited to the NBA Basketball Without Borders event in South Africa, to winning All-Western Athletic Conference honors as a redshirt junior at New Mexico State University.
Yet perhaps the biggest moment of the 6-10 big man’s life came Saturday, March 1, when, for the first time ever, his mother saw him play basketball.
Nephawe left South Africa soon after the NBA Basketball Without Borders event, recruited by NM State head coach Marvin Menzies. After spending two years playing for Stoneridge Prep in California, having played basketball for only four years of his life, Nephawe signed with the Aggies. Living in America with an adopted family, Nephawe hadn’t seen his mother, Joyce Nephawe, in three years until that Saturday, and the moment was special for both.
“It was a great experience and really got me going,” Nephawe said. “It was a good feeling to know that everyone was there for me.”
Speaking for his mother, Chili said she was really excited to be at the game after not having seen her son for three years. She was amazed by the things he was doing.
Having Chili translate for her, Mrs. Nephawe said, “It is a really good feeling and I want to thank his American family for everything they have done throughout these years.”
Nephawe’s American parents, Kristen and Michael Barry, were also in attendance. The two have been behind Nephawe every step of the way; caring for him and helping him find his way for his life in America.
“It’s been great living with good people,” Nephawe said. “It was amazing for them to open their house to me, take me in and treat me like one of their own. They showed me how to essentially live life because they raised me pretty much throughout my entire adult life,” said Nephawe.
The Barrys, whom Nephawe affectionately refers to as “Mom and Pops,” have been travelling to Aggie games from California ever since he signed with NM State. Feeling like they are a part of the Aggie family, ‘Pops’ Barry said taking Nephawe in has been a great experience.
“It’s very rewarding. When we first met him we slowly got to know him and began to fall in love with him. It was interesting with our other three kids to see how they started to take him in as well and at that point we started to view him as our son,” Michael said.
Nephawe had another standout year for the Aggies in 2013-14, averaging 11.1 points a game, a team-leading 7.8 rebounds and recording 50 blocks for the season. His mother and American parents will travel to Las Vegas, Nev., this week to watch Nephawe and the rest of the Aggies take on Bakersfield in the semifinals of the WAC tournament, March 14 at 9:30 p.m. (MT), in the Orleans Arena.