26 December 2009

UGANDA : Warriors, Leopards roar loud

If confidence was to be used as a yardstick to determine men’s champions of the MTN-Fuba League, DMark Power would have taken the trophy without touching a ball.

Their confidence, however, was beyond necessary. Precisely put, they were over confident and paid heavily for that in the end. And you couldn’t fault them for approaching the 2009 season with boundless confidence.

Spending spree
They were the defending champions and added the Blick brothers Norman and Donald to their array of stars at an estimated Shs30m. The signing of Michael Kojjo, who is a sure contender for the Rookie of the Year award made them look a very solid team capable of stopping any opponent. Rugby star Allan Musoke, who also made a highly publicised switch to Power, declared; “This team can go unbeaten throughout the season.”
By making such a declaration, Musoke probably forgot that the other top teams were also busy in the transfer market. Warriors relentlessly tried to sign Stephen Omony but lost the battle to Falcons.

Omony, returning from Seychelles side PSL Hawks, penned a Shs72m contract, which made him the most expensive player in Uganda’s history.
Falcons’ patron John Ssimbwa summed it up; “This is a landmark in Uganda’s basketball.” After losing out on Omony, Warriors’ boss Ambrose Tashobya landed Abdullahi Ramathan and Martin Okwako from Tanzania and Kenya respectively.
The duo signed two-year contracts but still never looked like they were going to help Warriors shed off their nearly-men tag after Power edged them 90-88 in their first round encounter in June.
If there was ever going to be a time to gauge local teams’ metal, it was during the Fiba Sprite Zone 5 tournament held in Kampala in August.

Zone 5 test
As hosts, Uganda were given leeway to field three teams (men and women). Power, Falcons and Warriors entered the men’s fray while KCC Leopards, A-1 Challenge and KIU Rangers, taking the place of 2008 league champions UCU Lady Canons, tried out their luck in the women’s category.

Unbelievably, Warriors found themselves in the same group with Power. Warriors once again lost to Power (96-98) but that result was irrelevant as they sailed to the final.
Power got eliminated in the preliminaries while Falcons, the only Ugandan side to have won the Zone 5, couldn’t make it out of the other group. Warriors lost the final to Cooperative Bank of Kenya 47-53 but the admiration that they earned from the thousands of fans that thronged YMCA, Wandegeya changed the club’s fortunes.
“Although we’ve failed to take the trophy, this has been a good tournament. Everyone now knows that Warriors mean business,” Ramathan, one of the outstanding players of the hugely successful tournament, remarked. It’s tough to choose the team of that tournament between Warriors and KCC Leopards.

In the women’s sort, KCC Leopards were exceptional. Their 74-66 semi-final victory over Rwanda’s APR was the biggest shock of the tournament. “I expected a tougher fight from them but I’m surprised,” KCC Leopards coach Timothy Odeke explained after the victory. “Maybe they undermined us.
Leopards lost the final to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) 47-65 but their performance, too, was satisfactory unlike A-1 Challenge and KIU Rangers, who failed to negotiate the group stages.

Oketcho factor
Although Odeke couldn’t single out any player for praise, it was clear Flavia Oketcho’s acquisition from Lady Canons that made KCC Leopards a complete outfit.

Even though she missed out on the 3-0 league semifinal whitewash of KIU Rangers, Oketcho returned from United Kingdom to spur KCC Leopards to their first league title in three years.

Their opponents A-1 Challenge put up a brave fight in the seven-game final series but went down 4-1 after Josephine Namayega’s blunder in Game Four robbed them of an opportunity to remain in contention.

Fourth-place fight
The Fuba technical committee headed by William Musaazi had the roughest time in the league, even worse than Ivan Enabu (UCU Canons) and Falcons’ Sande Okot whom they banned for one year because of an ugly fight between Falcons and UCU Canons.
Musaazi and company were responsible for the avoidable relegation battle between KCC Lions and UCU Canons. The technical committee provided both teams with two different times for their rescheduled game in October.
As a result, UCU reported late for the game after KCC Lions had been awarded four points by forfeiture. UCU Canons managed to force a replay but KCC Lions rejected the idea and sought the intervention of National Council of Sports (NCS) in order to survive relegation.
“This is no ordinary match. It’s a match of life and death. If we lose, we will get relegated, if UCU Canons lose they will be relegated.

That’s why we are not accepting a replay,” KCC Lions official Denis Karugaba reasoned while brushing off Fuba’s call for fair play in trying to determine which of the two teams goes to the second tier. NCS forced Fuba to retain both teams in First Division, implying that only Knight Riders will go down.

With Berkley and St Michael getting promoted from the Second Division, the topflight will have an unusual 11 teams and the fraternity’s dissatisfaction with the technical committee looks set to continue into the New Year.
“My thinking is that all technical committee members should resign,” former Fuba executive committee member and DMark Power technical director Peter Mubanda reasoned; “They have totally messed up the league.”

Enabu got his suspension reduced to six months but the disciplinary record of his UCU Canons team was further dented by Ken Rot’s bottle-throwing antics during Game Three between Warriors and Power.
Rot’s ruckus that lasted over 20 minutes was the ugliest scene of the season. The off-court action, though, never curtailed Warriors’ vitality. Power totally had no answers to the many questions Warriors posed over the five games in the finals.
A 4-1 victory meant that Warriors landed their first title and the abysmal display in the Kigali-hosted Africa Club Championship should be of little concern.

It was an eye opener and Warriors will definitely go places in the coming season next year.

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