Top guns led by national champions KCB Lions and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) hit the road this weekend for Uganda to take part in the Fiba Africa Zone Five club championships that throws off Monday in Kampala.
The other three teams headed for the regional show are Co-operative Ban of Kenya, KPA men and Eagle Wings. Of the lot only Co-op Bank faltered during last weekend games played both in Nairobi and Mombasa. They used the matches as warm up fixtures for Kampala show.
Lions clobbered International Christian Center (ICC) 72-57, KPA men whitwashed Strathmore University Blades 91-57 while ports women too had it too easy against Strathmore Swords running away with a one sided 100-8 thrashing of the students.
Co-op who had beaten Posta 64-45 only a week ago, continued to confound finding life too difficult against United States International University (USIU) inexplicably allowing the students to come back from an 18 point difference to carry the day 81-78.
Eagle Wings had it easy, bolting off to a strong start taking a 33-12 lead at the break before humiliating Sprite Storms 66-25 in a one sided demolition to send stern warning to their rivals.
All the four coaches, Francis "Officer" Ngunjiri (KCB), Anthony Ojukwu (KPA), Carey Oketch (Co-op) and Thomas Olumbo (Wings) all remained confident yesterday assuring that the teams would make the country proud by doing well in the championships.
Lions: This team remains very much the side to beat in this championships. Last year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Lions faltered 56-65 against eventual winners APR of Rwanda. Team manager George Omondi "Nyundo" remind all to that KCB are the national champions and needed some recognition.
Coach Ngunjiri has a side capable of going the extra mile this time round. "I am having Dennis "Dikembe" Opiyo back and his presence at the front court will be key. He will be helped by the lanky David Otiso and work horse Yoni Wanambiro with the young Tony Mbori expected to give them a breather.
In Tobias Onyango, Victor Odendo and Juma Ikapian, Lions have three pure snipper - league's most deadly trio- who can score and there is the upcoming Eric Omari who together with Paul "Dudu" Onyango will bring the ball. Wycliffe Onyango is fearless and can not be ignored either.
Without APR, who sailed through to the final tour in Kigali in November by virture of being the reigning champions, compatriots Marines whom KCB pipped 71-69 in Addis, there is glimmer of hope but there will be Uganda champions, Power playing at home.
KPA: Head coach Anthony Ojukwu believes that his teams remain very much the sides to beat in the regional meet. He said the ladies who are the reigning champions and the men's teams have trained well and seem to have hit form at the right time.
Talking on phone from his base in Mombasa, the tactician who is given the huge task of handling the men and women's teams predicted that "If things go well, we will sweep the boars in Kampala in this championships."
He noted that the return of Mike Opel back to active basketball has given the boys so much confidence ahead of this show. KPA have lost only one of their seven premier league show and are second behind leaders KCB Lions on 13 points.
Opel's return, he noted, is great news to KPA and its effort ton win this event. The morale in the team is very different as the boys lacked leadership in his absense earlier in the year. I convinced him to return from retirement specifically to help the team gell after which he can now decide top retire for good."
He said that the team have signed some superb youngsters whom he will expose during the six day tournament and see how they cope with the international pressure. He remained highly convinced that they will prevail.
"The team has morale, they have the confidence and they can surely bring results. "beamed Ojukwu naming the youngsters as Anthony Okello, Java Odhiambo, Innocent Oduor and Geoffrey Omondi who has been playing in the Uganda league.
On the ladies who are also the title holders, Ojukwu also said that the return of another old player Millicent Anyango has also come at the right time. Anyango, a former international who has been regular in the past few years will help the side a lot in the show.
"She is back to the team. She played well during this weekend's premier league tie in Mombasa and she will soon be back to top form." said Ojukwu, adding that Everlyn "Taliban" Akoth is in a class of her own and Yvonne "Atoti" Akinyi is working well in and out of the post."
Wings: The self sponsored side, the second best women's team in Kenya have vowed that they are not going for the Zone Five club championships Kampala, Uganda merely to make the numbers.
Team tactician Thomas "Smatts" Olumbo said that his team has the experience that shoul see them home and dry. Despite a poor run in last November's Africa club championships in Nairobi, Wings have trained well at their Nairobi Railways club courts.
"I believe we can win this tournament. My team has the experience and I hope that they will rise to the occasion." said Olumbo who has only lost one player- Maureen Andalia from the side that took part in last year's Africa club championships in Nairobi.
He said that as part of the preparations, he would have loved to play rivals and national champions KPA and newly formed Eastern Queens. But this was an exercise in futility and the meetings will now be after the Kampala date.
"The two are currently the top placed teams in the country and any meeting with them would have been greatly welcomed at this time as we prepare for Kampala. But unfortunately, that was not in programmed but all the same we remain focused." he noted.
Team manager Nellie Odera was equally as optimistc that the girls would do well in the week long show.The team that was not well placed during last continental show that attracted 12 teams. Mozambique's Desportivo emerged winners.
"We anticipate a good show. We know everyone coming out to beat us and we will not under rate any of our opponents in this tournament. We are continuing to work on new tactics and shoot a lot as the daily training develops each day." She echoed.
Olumbo said that Ugandan teams will provide tough opposition. Let us not think it will be easy, Ugandands have worked so hard to develop their games lately and with the kind of organisational skills they have shown, they will suprise many." he noted.
Co-op Bank: The multi talented bankers still remain the most enigmatic side in the premier league this year. Blowing hot and cold despite such an array of talent is what team fans have failed to understand. But despite all this, Coach Oketch however remains upbeat.
He said that the team preparations has gone on well. But the Kampala performance will very much depend on which Co-op side will show up."I believe we are ready and will approach one game as it comes." he said.
His weapons to be unleashed on the rivals remains Richard Osano, Allan Ouma Moses Kamau and Ben Mufutu. At the posts he has two of the tallest players to do this job, Dan Gaiko and Roy Kahure.
HE Zone Five Africa club championships started in Zimbabwe in 1995 when then Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) chairman Joseph Herman Kimani and Tom Michael Munyama Arum traveled with two teams Posta (men) and KCB Lioness to Harare for the maiden tournament.
Continental basketball body FIBA Africa the moved in 2006 when the event was held in Nairobi and swept by Kenyan clubs KCB Lions and current holders KPA women.Nations comprising the zone are Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan Somalia, Ethiopia and Egypt.
But power house Egypt has never sent any club to this championships. Sudan and Somalia are the other two- but there may be a club or two coming to Uganda for the event tipping off Monday in Kampala.
Kenya teams have previously dominated this competition with Lions, Co-op, Posta, Telkom n the men and KPA, Lioness and Ogopa laying claim to the regional diadem..
But the winds of a change is blowing with APR of Rwanda, Falcons and Lady Bucks of Power of Uganda have threatened the hold briefly. Cobras of Seychelles, JKT of Tanzania too have also won it.
Year City Men Women
1995 Harare Posta KCB Lioness
1996 Nairobi Coop KCB Lioness
1997 Kampala Coop KCB Lioness
1998 Dar Coop KCB Lioness
1999 Lusaka Cobra (Sey) Telkom
2000 Kampala Falcons Ogopa
2001 Kigali Vijana (Tz) KPA
2002 Nairobi APR KPA
2003 Zanzibar Ulinzi JKT
2004 Kampala Postbank Lady Bucks (Ug)
2005 Dar KCB Lions Sprite Storms
2006 Nairobi KCB Lions KPA
2007 Kigali APR (Rw) KPA
2008 Adis Ababa APR KPA
2009 Kampala ..... .....