UGANDA : When Nkumba Marines ruled the hoops roost

Written by Moses Mugalu

In 2004, what started out as a mere shot at team-bonding by then Nkumba Marines players at the S&S Bar and Restaurant ended up conjuring an unplayable basketball outfit in the local league.

Marines players then used to converge at the saloon a stone’s throw from Nkumba University and would discuss tactical strategies over a gin and tonic. This not only strengthened the chemistry and camaraderie of the players, but also won the university outfit back-to-back league titles in 2005 and 2006.

Team spirit
Looking back, the back-to-back league titles winning coach Timothy Odeke is in no doubt as to what the bonding sessions at S&S Bar and Restaurant did.

Odeke, who still wears the hat of Marines coach, opted for a soft drink during the sessions for religious reasons. He adds that the sessions helped build a priceless “team spirit,” the drunken stupors that would ensue notwithstanding.

Player exodus hurts?
To date, the bond that was created amongst players at the S&S bar and restaurant is still traceable. The bond has seen the Blick siblings (Norman and Donald), Carroll Bisereko, Boniface Okello and Barnes Ankunda all end up at DMark Power.

Bisereko won the league at Warriors last season but decided to join Power this season to be with his buddies.

Ankunda is now calling the shots from the touchline. Odeke isn’t surprised that his former pupil is now a coach.

“[He] was a tactically aware player.” So aware that Ankunda outwitted Odeke when the two pitted their wits against each other a fortnight ago. Power beat Marines 88-80 in a league encounter.

The encounter no doubt reminded Odeke of his class of 2005 and 2006. The whole team was disintegrated, and it’s not just Power that came knocking on the university outfit’s door.

Mugalu lone ranger?
Paul Mwaka moved over to Ndejje University while Albert Aciko is at Miracle Eagles. The talismanic point-guard, Ali Salim is starring for Kenya’s Cooperative Bank. Only Carl Mugalu remains at Nkumba but he is irregular because of work.

Mugalu, Bisereko and Mwaka were the smart defensive kingpin, but it was Norman Blick who stole the show. Norman was the reason why Marines’ matches used to rake up close to 300 adoring students from Nkumba. Today, hardly 50 students show up – a telling reminder that Phillip Wakimwero is no Norman Blick.

Stepping in Blick's shoes
Wakimwero is Marines’ leader. The power-forward fades in comparison to Norman who plays in all positions.

This has not stopped Wakimwero – who averages 17points – from donning the No.4 jersey that Norman once sported. To be fair to Wakimwero, he scored 20 points compared to Norman’s 19 when Marines and Power met a fortnight ago.

He also scored a handy 19 points against Warriors. “Such performances are a sign that we aren’t far off and we can return Marines to the glory days,” says Wakimwero.

However, Wakimwero will have to improve his shooting from the three-point and one-point line if he is to inspire Nkumba to success again. Currently, Marines lie seventh on the log – three places away from a play-off spot.