23 February 2009

UGANDA : Omony remains king of the hoops

by Sande Bashaija

On his return to the national team last week, Stephen Omony looked somewhat ordinary you would mistake him for an average local-based player.

He struggled to fit into the team during its trial match against a select side at Lugogo last Wednesday, scoring a paltry four points and left many a basketball fan wondering whether he could be of any impact in the Zone 5 Africa Championship qualifiers tipping off today in Kigali. “I think I need some time to gel with the guys,” Omony admitted after the trial match which the national team won 77-63.
Omony goes for the hoop during national team training. Photo by Ismail Kezaala

Come the second tune-up game against UCU Canons, Omony showed what attracted Seychelles side PSL Hawks to sign him and proved to all that he is Uganda’s best basketball player. He scored a game high 25 points and dished as many assists for the national team to outlast the university side 93-68.

As the Ugandan team embarks on its campaign in Kigali, Omony, more than any other player, knows that there is a lot at stake. “Hawks scouts contacted me when we were in Kigali during the 2002 East and Central Club Championships,” Omony recalls.

He was a Falcons player at the time but his career took a turn for the better after that tournament. He signed for Hawks and has since plied his trade in Seychelles.
“At first it was difficult. The language, the people and the weather were all different. I became homesick but later realised that I had to do my job,” Omony says.

As the only professional, Omony faced a burden of expectations. He had to make an immediate impact. That he did perfectly well. Hawks won the league and Omony was voted the second best most valuable player in his maiden season.

Honour in foreign country
With Omony, Hawks now have four league championships in their cabinet and three Seychelles federation cups.

And in the six years, the Ugandan has also bagged the Most Valuable Player’s (MVP) award twice. “It feels nice being honoured in a foreign country. It’s a big achievement,” Omony notes.

He is now out of contract with Hawks but he hopes its renewed. “My contract is renewed after every year. We are in discussions and maybe something will be worked out when I go back next month.”

Whereas Omony leaves the option of playing for a Ugandan team open, he asserts that a lot has to be done to improve the game.

“The talent is in abundance, the league is improving but national team players have to be given more exposure. That’s how some of them will get chances to join professional ranks,” he adds.

Watching Omony training with the national team at Lugogo, it’s easy to realise that he is not as comfortable. “The surface is too poor. Something has to be done about our facilities,” he says as he draws comparisons with facilities back in Seychelles.

At 29, Omony is as mobile on court as a 15-year-old and his talent stands out although he never expected to be a basketball player.

“Football was my number one sport while growing up. Right from primary, I played soccer until high school,” Omony reveals.

He went to Mwiri Primary School and later St. Leo’s Kyegobe where he pushed for a first team place in vain. “I was good but very tiny yet there were very many big guys in school at the time,” he says. Omony recalls how he went for trials at Uganda’s most successful football club - SC Villa but gave up on football weeks later.

In 1997, he joined Kitante for his advanced level education and it was then that he fell in love with basketball. “I joined Blue Jackets Basketball Club [in 1997]. Guys there made me believe that I could play.” Within just a short time, Omony was on the Kitante first team, which he helped win the 1999 and 2000 Sprite School championships.

Life at Falcons
After one year at Blue Jackets, he crossed to the then newly-formed Falcons, a club that would later become the most successful in Ugandan basketball. “I feel proud to be a pioneer member of Falcons. I had moments of success with them, which will forever remain in my memory,” he reminisces.

In 1999, Omony travelled to Zambia for his first international tournament although the team never performed well. “We didn’t do well in Zambia but the experience helped us win the East and Central Club Championships the following year.”

As he matured and grew in confidence, Omony emerged MVP in 1999 and 2000 as Falcons won back-to-back national league titles. That was the launch pad for an international career that has now spanned six years.

Born to Mr and Mrs Maxwell Lajul Olanyo of Kitgum District, Omony hopes to use the Africa Zone 5 tournament for another opening. And he is confident the Ugandan team can negotiate the hurdles and earn a slot at the Africa Championship due August in Libya.
“Our team is good. We just have to capitalise on our strengths and minimise the weaknesses.

The players must also believe that everything is possible.”
From Kitgum through Kampala to Seychelles, Omony has become a role model to many budding Ugandan players but his challenge remains using his individual skills to take the national team to another level.

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