25 April 2006

KENYA: Kenya sides chase eighth title

Kenya men and women’s teams will be seeking to clinch their eighth East, Central and Southern Africa basketball club championship when the 12th edition starts at Nairobi’s Nyayo Stadium today.

Kenya will field five teams in both men and women’s sections by virtue of being hosts and also defending champions.

Kenya Commercial Bank Lions and Sprite Storms entered the regional tournament’s history books by winning the men and women’s titles for the first time in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last year.

Kenyan clubs had continued to dominate the championship since its inception in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1995.

KCB Lions rocked Ulinzi Warriors 89-76 in all-Kenyan final to win the men’s trophy while Sprite Storms beat hosts Jeshi la Kujenga Taifa 82-74 to be crowned the new 2005 women’s queens. Storms, who were representing Kenya in the international tournament for the first time, had earlier lost to hosts JKT in the preliminary round.

Other Kenya’s representatives in this year’s men’s category are Ulinzi Warriors and Co-operative Bank of Kenya. Kenya Ports Authority, who became the first team to win the women’s league title three times in-a-row, will join defending champions Sprite Storms in Kenya’s bid to retain the Cup.

Kenya Basketball Federation chairman Agina Wesonga is optimistic that Kenya will use home court advantage to retain both titles for the eighth time. Wesonga said Kenya will have little opposition in the women’s section since KPA and Storms are well prepared to carry the day. The KBF boss has predicted an all Kenyan women’s final and asked fans to turn up in large numbers to cheer the teams.

But he cautioned the three men’s teams, KCB Lions, Co-op Bank and Ulinzi Warriorsagainst complacency because the teams from Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania had greatly improved their game standards.

"During last year’s performance in the regional senior Challenge Cup in Kampala, Uganda, Burundi featured youthfull players, who could give Kenya a run for their money this time’’ Wesonga said.

Both Kenya’s men and women’s clubs have continued to do the country pround by dominating the championship in the last 12 years. KCB Lionesses and Nairobi Posta (now Telkom) won the controversial inaugural event in Harare in 1995. Despite having had a poor start with only Kenyan teams playing their hosts Zimbabwe 12 year’s ago, the regional tournament has turned out to be competitive with many member countries entering their teams.

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