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by Harry Minium

Minium: The van Schalkwyk Brothers From Namibia Have Found a Home With ODU Men's Tennis

Codie and Connor Schalkwyk with a Namibian flag draped over their shoulders

Codie and Connor van Schalkwyk with the Namibia flagCodie and Connor van Schalkwyk with the Namibia flag

By Harry Minium

NORFOLK, Va. – Brothers Codie and Connor van Schalkwyk realize how lucky they are to have lived in so many places and become comfortable with so many cultures. And they praise their parents, who sacrificed so much for their tennis careers while allowing them to experience the world.

They were born in England but largely raised in Namibia, a small country in southern Africa that is among the safest and wealthiest on the continent. And they said they had ideal childhoods in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city.

“We played outside all the time,” said Codie, the older of the brothers by two years. “Namibia is a beautiful country. And the weather was so good. It’s basically summer there eight or nine months a year.

“We were safe and had good friends. Everyone knew everyone else.”

By the time Codie was 13, they were standout tennis players and were invited to train at the ITF African Training Center in Casablanca, Morocco, a former French colony in northern Africa with beaches on both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterrean Sea. 

There is no comparable facility in Namibia and the country has few high-profile tennis tournaments.

So, their father found a job in Casablanca, and thus the family picked up and moved so that his sons were able to train with the best and play in some of the best international tournaments in Europe.

 A few years ago, their parents moved to Sweden, where the weather isn’t as conducive for tennis, but once again they were exposed to a new culture.

That path around the world most recently has led them to Old Dominion University, which they will represent beginning Tuesday in the NCAA Tournament doubles competition at Oklahoma State University.

The pair helped lead ODU to the Sun Belt Conference title earlier this season, although, curiously, they did not play together in doubles. Codie was victorious in both doubles and singles and Connor clinched a 4-1 victory over Georgia Southern with a singles victory at No. 2.

This past fall they came within a match of winning a national title, advancing to the championship match of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Championships. They defeated a doubles team from TCU to get into the final.

The brothers are ranked 54th nationally entering Tuesday’s first round.

Coach Dominik Mueller also said he separated them in doubles in part because they hadn’t been playing particularly well. He thought they needed a break from each other.

They are happy to be reunited.

“I thought it was a good idea when we stopped playing together,” Connor said. “But I look so forward to playing with Codie in the NCAA Tournament. I love playing with my brother.”

Codie, a junior, was the first to come to ODU and it was a personal connection that made him feel comfortable in Norfolk.

Younes Lalami, a standout tennis player, was at ODU and hailed from Morocco.

“We had played with him and knew him pretty well,” Codie said.

They also knew his brother, Othmane Lalami, who is ODU’s associate head coach. The Lalami brothers are half Moroccan and half Dutch.

 “I loved the coaches,” Codie said. “I didn’t know much about college tennis before I came here, and they were all so supportive.

“I’ve never looked back after making that decision.”

Both brothers had their choice of power conference scholarship offers.

“I didn’t come here just because my brother was here,” Connor said. “But I also didn’t want to go someplace where I didn’t know anybody.

“Honestly, I was a little scared to go someplace where I didn’t know anyone.

“Here at ODU, I knew my brother, but I also knew the coaches. The facilities here are so nice and the coaches, they have been awesome. And I wanted to win a conference championship with my brother.

“It was not a difficult choice for me.”

Their family and ethnic background is a little complicated. Their father, Johan, is of German descent, but does not speak German. Because he is German, his sons are dual citizens of Namibia and Germany.

Curiously, they have two German roommates on the ODU tennis team – Aryan Saleh and Jakob Cadonau -- but they communicate with them in English. Neither Codie nor Connor speak German. They both speak English, Namibia’s official language, and Afrikaans, an offshoot of Dutch spoken in several countries in southern Africa.

Namibia is a former German colony and ethnic Germans living there are automatically given German citizenship and thus a German passport.

“We can go to so many more places without a visa with a German passport,” Connor said.

Their mother, Ronel, is from South Africa. Johan and Ronel met while in college in South Africa.

Namibia’s history is full of both tragedy and triumph. Germany engineered a genocide against native Black Africans just before World War I, when the Germans were driven out of South West Africa, as the country was then known. Germany agreed to pay $1.3 billion in reparations three years ago.

Administered by South Africa for much of the 20th Century, Namibia was thus subject to Apartheid, the system that separated the races and allowed for discrimination against native Black Africans.

Namibia became independent in 1990 and is a well-functioning democracy. Race relations there, while not perfect, are better than other African countries, the brothers say. International organizations have judged that the country has held free and fair elections.

Rich with resources, including uranium and diamonds, the country generally has a higher standard of living than most of its neighbors.

“When we tell people we are from Namibia, they look at us and say, ‘but you’re not Black,’” Connor said. “Namibia is home for us as much as anyone who lives there.

"Where we grew up, there were a lot of people of both races. And we all got along well.”

“We grew up with Black friends, white friends and friends of mixed races,” Codie added.

“There are still some problems in Namibia, but I feel like it is getting better. And we got along with everyone.”

In spite of living in five different countries, they both say Namibia remains their home. They have friends and family there. Both say they likely will move back there one day.

They of their country and hometown with a sense of reverence. 

They have competed and will compete again in their country’s colors, in international tournaments.

“I’m proud to be a Namibian,” Connor said.

“I agree,” Codie added. “There are not a lot of people from Africa who get to play for their country, who get to represent their country, who get to win for their country.”

This week they will represent ODU and say they are proud to do so.

“This has been such a great season,” Codie said. “We won the Sun Belt last year, but this was my first championship because I was injured last year.

“The way the team came together to win that final match was so nice.”

Connor, who was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the year, said finishing second in the nation during the fall is something he will never forget, and gives him some motivation this week.

“We were so lucky to get a wildcard (bid) to the nationals in the fall,” he said. "And then we made the most of it.

“Making the final, that was really nice, especially with my brother. Winning the Sun Belt title, that was such a good feeling.

“We will give it our very best,” in the NCAA Tournament, he added. “We play well together. We have played a lot of tennis together.”

And thanks to their parents, all over the world.

Minium is ODU's Senior Executive Writer for Athletics. Contact him at or follow him  on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.



Connor and Codie van Schalkwyk after their second place finish at the ITA Fall Nationals
Winning Point-0630

Connor van Schalkwyk with the winning point against Georgia Southern in Sun Belt Championship Match April 21, 2024

Connor and Codie van Schalkwyk at ITA Fall Nationals - Nov. 2023