The Observer (Kampala)

3 January 2013

Uganda: When Ivan Enabu Completed Mission

For every team that made it to the finals of the basketball play-offs in December 2012, the championship was the ultimate prize.

And so did the players, although, taken the league as a whole, perhaps no one did so than Warriors' Ivan Enabu. See, from a family of six (five boys and a girl), five of whom had featured in the Federation of Uganda Basketball Association (Fuba) organised league, Enabu had been the only one not to have a first-division league winners' medal.

But that all changed on December 16 when Enabu finally kissed the winner's trophy after Warriors edged Falcons 4-2. The situation had become so unbearable for Enabu because even his sister Evelyn had won the first-division title with UCU Lady Canons in 2008, while his brother Mark had won the 2008 league title with Power before relocating to Canada.

His younger brothers, Jimmy, 24, won it in 2011 while Emmanuel, 21, had clinched it in 2010 and 2011, both with Dmark Power. In fact, in 2011, it was at the expense of Ivan. As Ivan cried, Emmanuel kissed a second winner's medal in three seasons of top-flight basketball.

And since Ivan, who had struggled his way up over the years from the second division with Knight-Riders and UCU Canons, wasn't growing any younger, it wasn't enough being called one of the game's best players without silverware. Stars are synonymous with success, hence the pressure of underachievement was immense.

Ivan had to exorcise the 2011 demons that saw him lose the title to his brothers, following a 4-3 series loss.

"That was one of the lowest days in my adult life I can remember," he told The Observer before the play-off finals.

And his mother, Angela Enabu, knew the depth of his anguish:

"When Ivan lost the finals to Power in 2011, he spent the whole night watching TV."

As a parent, it was difficult for her considering that two of her, other sons who had won also needed her support in as far as their achievement was concerned. All she could do was to encourage him.

"For a while, each time at the meal table," she recalls, "Ivan would remind everyone how he was the odd man without a league title."

And that hurt. In fact, according to Jimmy, because of how sensitive the whole subject was, basketball talk became a touchy subject better left un-discussed in the Enabu home. Not even the second-division championship with UCU Canons in 2006 and a Sprite Schools Championship title with Kabojja Secondary School in 2002 would suffice for Ivan who first tried his luck in competitive basketball in 2004 aged 20 while with Nkumba Marines.

It's the first-division title that mattered. And to be considered amongst the greatest, one had to win it according to Ivan. But he added that the double groin injury he suffered during the 2011 play-offs, forcing him to play on painkillers, was the reason he played below par. But during the 2012 play-offs, he was fit.

That was needed to have his 'A' game on to complete a long-awaited mission. He trained hard to make up for what wasn't a blistering 2012 regular basketball season. As per his standards, Ivan is the kind of player expected to be vying for MVP gongs every season for all the basketball attributes he has that get fans off their seats in awe.

With his elegance, skills, flair and tricks on the ball, Ivan is more or less the equivalent of a Zinedine Zidane in flight. So graceful, he is that with his panache at dribbling on the run and ability to lay an assist out of this world, the accolade that he is the game's best is well suited. Inspired by Miami Heat's Dwayne Wade, Ivan always hoped that just like Heat's long wait for a championship since 2006 ended in June 2012 with a star-studded side that was hated and loved by many in equal measure for the acquisition of LeBron James, Warriors would add to their single title won in 2009.

They actually did. But before they could, Ivan told The Observer, "I'm not entertaining any negative thoughts. I'm confident that we've a great experienced side to win and God will see us through."

However, if Ivan hadn't won this time, he would have had to deal with a host of cynics who, over the years, have claimed that Ivan is jinxed and therefore whatever club he plays for can't win titles. Yet, even he couldn't escape the taint that mars the great.

In the semi-final play-offs against UCU Canons, Ivan was captured on camera punching his opponent, Sunday Okot, in the belly. This was in retaliation after Okot had tripped him on court. Back in 2009, Ivan and Okot received lengthy bans from Fuba for fighting on court.

"I regret that because I'm not that kind of person. It was just in the heat of the moment," he muses.

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