UGANDA : Hoops conquer barriers in Power-ful season

In last season’s MTN-Fuba Basketball League, many Ugandans found a totally new love. Some that made their first appearance at a basketball game during the dramatic best-of-seven final series between DMark Power and Warriors were hitched. They go into 2011 with a new treasure though most were not there at the start of the season.

Warriors were coming off their first national title and there was every reason to envisage a very successful season that lay ahead.

Wagons were quickly falling off at Mountain Dew Falcons and the then reigning champions cashed in by signing the Malinga brothers, Eric and Henry from the latter. The duo came in along with Michael Kariuki, Markmot Orom and Pascal Alule from KIU Titans.

The Malingas’ exit told more than half the story of what was going on at Falcons, Uganda’s most illustrious club, only for Stephen Omony to complete it.

Omony’s return from a semi-professional stint in Seychelles worth a widely reported Sh72m was short-lived as he later walked out over non-payment. He ended up at Miracle Eagles and the team came within one game of a first appearance in the play-offs.

Not to be outdone, Falcons plunged into the East African Community to sign several regional stars most notably Richard Osano Omondi, Sudi Ulanga, Mike Buzangu and Bienvenue Ngandu.
Even though they eventually got to the post-season behind Power, UCU Canons and Warriors in that order, Ngandu and Buzangu disappeared due to non-payment.

Inevitably, the club patron John Ssimbwa, though very defiant, watched in pain as his beloved side was bundled out in the semifinals for the second straight season.

Of all the four in the men’s play-offs, UCU had reason to celebrate most. Jimmy Enabu’s move from Knight Riders to join his elder brother Ivan instigated another appearance in the post-season. The title though remained a long short.

A rather thrilling league attracted mammoth crowds many of whom must have ended up as Power converts as they clinched a fourth title with a 4-3 series victory over Warriors. But what will not be forgotten is Warriors’ resurgence to level the series at 3-3 after losing the opening three encounters. It was a kind of comeback that left Power and their fans bewildered. Nonetheless, the champions managed to recompose themselves and won the decisive clash 83-71.

Perhaps, in preparation for a final onslaught on the crown, Power opted out of the regional Fiba Zone 5 Club Championships because of inadequate finances leaving Warriors, Miracle and UCU to carry Uganda’s cross in the men’s competition. They were not alone. UCU Lady Canons and the then reigning champions KCC Leopards entered the women’s contest. The contingent mirrored a crumbling pack of cards with only Miracle and KCC managing to win a game.

Classy Akinyi
In fact, the Rubaga-based Miracle won two and only lost to Kenya’s KCB Lions moments after arriving in Bujumbura, Burundi. Upon their return from the torturous bus journey through Rwanda to Burundi, UCU ladies returned in venomous fashion.

Only A1 Challenge were able to beat the 2008 champions in the first round and on resumption, the university side cruised through unbeaten into post-season. They flattened KIU Rangers 3-1 in the best of five semi-finals and clean-swept A1 Challenge 4-0 in the seven-game final series.

Lorraine Akinyi and Anastasia Njeri proved a class act in reducing A1 Challenge to a fourth successive defeat in the finals. The duo dominated all areas of the court and often got sufficient support from a secret weapon in Maureen Amoding.

Former champions Charging Rhino along with Youth Heaters earned promotion from Division Two to One. UCU JV and Giant Stormers upgraded from Division Three to Two. As the season wound down, Falcons lost Omondi to Miracle, Ulanga joined UCU as did Warriors’ Martin Okwako. There are bound to be many more in the New Year.

Basketball has surely broken so many barriers in the hearts of fans but disputes over sharing gate collections and structuring clubs to generate income from corporate companies in what is quickly becoming an elitist sport are big challenges.

Poor umpires
Inadequacy of umpires and coaches is also a big Achilles heel for Fuba as president Ambrose Tashobya completes his four-year term. When the Lugogo Indoor Stadium was closed just a few weeks following its re-opening upon renovation, it seemed to heal so much only for the famous venue to close for further renovation.

It left Fuba in a precarious situation where they might need to look at finding a more reliable place other than the eternal saviour YMCA Wandegeya arena. It is also unclear who should be blamed for the poor surface at Lugogo. University sides like UCU, KIU and Ndejje want to offer an escape route by hosting league games. But that is also subject to debate as the federation risks losing revenue. The hottest debate in so many quarters now is firmly focused on who should take the Most Valuable Player (MVP)’s award.

Whereas UCU’s Akinyi looks a clear favourite in the women’s category, stakeholders have a tough choice to make between Power’s Norman Blick, Isaac Afidra and Ben Komakech in the men’s sort. Another successful season locally but conquering the region remains a distant dream in addition to getting rid of complacency to build on this.