For the first time in basketball history, Uganda is competing in the Federation of International Basketball Association (Fiba) Africa Under-16 Nations Championships qualifiers.
The event is beginning today to June 15 in the Rwandese capital of Kigali. Uganda's boys and girls teams travelled on Saturday June 8 for this tournament, that will pit them against the likes of Burundi, Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.
And despite Uganda's encumbrances of having no history in this competition, the message remained one- winning at all costs. Muhammed Santor, the manager National Teams said during his briefing to the media last week, that the winning culture has got to be inculcated into these young basketball players from the start. Losing can never be part of their thought process if they are to eventually become a force to reckon with in the sport.
This, coming from a man, who has built a City Oilers team, that has dominated basketball domestically and in the region for the last six years, is not mere talking shop. Santor has never accepted the tag of second best. And it is a similar attitude he wants these boys and girls to adopt.
However, apart from the tough training, this group has not had any significant build up games to prepare for their international opponents. Ronald Mutebi, the boys' head coach appreciated the concern raised the teams travelled. But he highlighted that they organized some practice matches against local teams with players in the almost the same age category as his players.
Because these boys and girls are in school, organizing them for bigger friendly matches against continental opposition always proved hard. Yet, with all said and done, these under-age competitions are not about how much experience you have.
This is a learning point, where these players showcase their ability and express themselves. "In fact, this is where they start building their international experience," Roger Sserunyigo, the Girls coach noted.
In addition, Hudson Ssegamwenge, the Federation of Uganda Basketball Association (Fuba) vice-president Administration said that all strong senior National teams have strong youth foundations. And by taking part in this Africa youth basketball qualification campaign, the bigger picture is nurturing talent.
Although the journey begins in Rwanda, Uganda's boys and girls will be targeting a spot in the Africa under-16 basketball championship later this year in Mali. And to be there, one of the team members, Valentino Labeja, said that they must win the tournament in Rwanda. It is winner takes it all, beginning tonight in Kigali.