23 January 2007

ZIMBABWE : Ray of hope for basketball

THERE was a time towards the end of the 2005/06 season when the basketball community in the country thought the sport was going down the chute.

Everything was at a standstill and things had even reached the lowest ebb when clubs boycotted meetings to chart the way forward.
This, coupled with lack of sponsorship, the sport’s Achilles heel for the past three seasons, gave everyone little hope that people would wake up to a fruitful 2006/07 season.
However, like the proverbial phoenix, the sport from the ‘near’ ashes is set for revival as more than eight new teams have joined the Harare Basketball Association (HBA) League and the usually dormant Basketball Union of Zimbabwe (BUZ) paid the US$2 400 to renew its affiliation with the Federation of International Basketball Association (FIBA).
The arrears have been piling since 1999 and Zimbabwe could not be included in international programmes.
The move has given veteran coach Ngoni Mukukula reason to believe that the sport is heading for greater heights despite lack of sponsorship.
Mukukula, who is poised to take on incumbent chairman Addison Chiware at the BUZ elections in January, said the future of the sport looks bright.
“The season has started off brilliantly, there are no squabbles and we have seen more clubs coming to the fold especially those from the high density areas. I went to Gweru last week and more than 11 teams were playing and one of them was from Zvishavane. This shows the sport continues to thrive in spite of lack of resources. We also have clubs from as far as Marondera joining the HBA league,” he said.
He showered praises for the BUZ executive for settling the arrears with FIBA saying this was a step in the right direction.
“I am in basketball for the development of the sport and not to make enemies. I want to see the sport being scaled to greater heights and this is why I am interested in the chairman’s position when the BUZ elections are held.
“However, I am prepared to stand aside if I see anyone who shows commitment to the cause of the game,” he said.
The Highdon Raiderz coach also spoke of the ‘perceived’ camps in basketball, which he said are a cancer that could eat the sport to extinction.
“Basketball is a minority sport which cannot survive squabbles. I have heard of certain camps in the sport, but that should not be the case. We should spend most of our time looking for ways to improve the sport other than fight each other.
“I do not have anything against the current executive and if they have the will and power to run the sport, I am prepared to stand aside and support them,” he said.
“They (BUZ) seem to be getting it right. I heard that we will be playing Zambia in an international friendly match and this is a positive stride, which should be applauded,” said Mukukula.
Mukukula said BUZ should work towards bringing professionalism to the sport, which is being viewed as amateur in the country.
“The sport should generate its own income unlike the current scenario whereby one has to fork from his pocket to finance a match.
“This is the reason why some clubs are folding as they belong to individuals,” he said.
He also said preparations for the forthcoming All Africa Games qualifiers should start now.
“We have the talent to compete against the best in the world. The women’s team has no problem as we have been coming third in the region in the last two editions of the Zone Six Games. It is with the men’s team where a problem may arise, as our players lack the required height.
“I think we need to track talented Zimbabwe players in the Diaspora. Countries such as Angola and Mozambique always look powerful when playing us as they use their foreign based players,” he said.
Zimbabwe has players such as Nelson Kasosera (United Kingdom), Levy Mwanza (USA), Evril Jedley and ex Cavaliers player Freddy Manyau who is also based in the United States.
On his team’s chances of winning the championship, Mukukula said chances look good, although it might be difficult.
“We will approach the championship as a journey whereby you know the destination but how to get there can be the problem. However, we have done all the necessary groundwork and that is why we are still to lose a match.
“There are a number of teams that can challenge us and these include Cavaliers, Jewels and Varsity Leopards,” he said.
He also said the future of the sport looks bright with the Hoops 4 Hope programme that continues to churn out stars.
“The future of the sport lies with the juniors. We have to create a platform where they showcase their talent and Hoops 4 Hope does exactly that. We provided five players for the team that represented Harare in the Under-15 tournament held in Gweru. Glen Norah Pistons, one of the up coming teams in the country is also made up of players from the organisation.
“I believe there is no school in the country that can beat recent winners of the Best of the Best 36 primary schools in the country at Queen Elizabeth,” he said.
Gillingham and Shiriyedenga from Dzivarasekwa and Glen Norah respectively were the winners of the tournament.
Mukukula described as unfortunate the abortion of the BUZ elections to bring in new last month.
“That was very unnecessary and basketball was the biggest loser. The move brought an element of uncertainty, as clubs would want to know their leaders. Also those who would be brought would have had more time to settle,” he said.

By Albert Marufu

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