The Fiba Africa Zone V Basketball championship kicks off on January 21 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The teams Uganda hopes to contest against are Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. Felix Eupal analyses team Uganda ahead of the tournament.
It's been seven years since Uganda lifted the Fiba Africa Zone V Championship trophy. That year, 2005, Kenya came in as favourites but the men's national basketball team had different ideas. They triumphed and Ivan Enabu was the tournament's MVP. That painted a rosy picture for the national team, although since then, both national teams have been on a downward slide.
It was especially pathetic during the 2009 games. First, the federation was cash-strapped and the players had to feed themselves. It was so bad that the players even shared beds to make ends meet. It was no surprise that the team didn't win any game that year. Last year, the script changed a bit. The financial woes were minimized, although a lot still remained.
There was trouble with the team selection and little preparation, meaning that the team had minimal practice sessions at Uganda Christian University grounds. The outcome? Only one win against Tanzania. Fast forward to 2012 and the federation set up what they called a National Team Steering committee. The committee was supposed to ensure development and growth, but as things look, it is simply a spent force.
For starters, the mercurial Isaac Afidra was dropped from the team, on account of being undisciplined. Discipline or indiscipline, dropping Afidra is like team USA dropping Kevin Durant. But Afidra took it in stride: "There is a selection panel which didn't find me fitting, but I will support the team all the way, this is my country and when I am called upon again, I will be ready to play."
To-date, the team still depends on evening training sessions which kick off at 5pm, yet the hosts, Tanzania and Rwanda have their teams in residential camps. In a bid to win the championship, Fuba will be flying in American college basketball coach Paul Johnson. Johnson has enormous experience and understanding of the game but his eight days here might not work miracles.
Since the federation is not funding Johnson's stay (he will be catered for by Athletes In Action - an international organization aimed at developing basketball), Johnson should be here long before the tournament so that he studies the players' weaknesses and strengths. Then there is the issue of the coaching staff, especially on the men's side which has Mandy Juruni (Warriors) assisted by Gad Eteu (Falcons) and Bernes Ankunda (Power). All these coaches have been head coaches in their respective clubs and have different ideologies.
To win a tournament every team has to have a strategy, and with three alpha males, it might not be easy. On the women's front, coach Timothy Odeke agrees: "We have started slow but we will get there."