22 July 2014
UGANDA : From dust to champion: The emergency of Daniel ‘Najja’ Juuko
Making it from the dusty hoops of Najja High School to the National Basketball League’s painted tarmac of the YMCA outdoor facility and crowned champion at the multi-discipline floor of the MTN Arena requires a certain amount of determination – a determination that cannot be weathered no matter how tough it gets.
Daniel Juuko aka Najja came to the top through the ranks from way back in 2009. The smart point guard started out from the dusty court of Najja High School battling for a place on the school’s team that was dominated by foreigners (Kenyans & Tanzanians).
Juuko joined (then) Division III side Berkley in 2010 which was promoted to Division II and turned into Rez Life Saints that also advanced to play in the premier division in the 2012 season and were cellar-dwellers all through the season and condemned back to Division II. While the Saints went down, Juuko was picked up by City Oilers.
“These guys (through Silver Rugambwa) came and talked to me, told me about the aspirations of the team and I was convinced. I had to join them and we are”
It was not rosy for the 24 year old at the start of his basketball life at City Oilers. “I was pretty nervous at the start playing with those guys. They had played for a while at the top and I was almost just starting. I think it was clear how nervous I and Sammie (Samuel Kalwanyi) were”
They say hard work is a talent itself. If there is no struggle, there is no progress and not many young players here understand that as much as Daniel ‘Najja’ Juuko. You don’t put in hours of workouts and practice without hunger to do great things.
“Getting here alone is all hard work and of course the trust of the coach. To earn the trust of the coach you have got to work hard and do what is right on court. I put in an extra hour outside of the usual team practice” he says.
In the wake of a poor post season from Muhamed Yusuf, tired legs of Ronnie Kalule and Jimmy Enabu’s knee injury, Juuko proved to be a welcome surprise for City Oilers. The diminutive point guard blew the local basketball faithful away with his stellar performance against an experienced Falcons’ back court in last year’s NBL playoffs finals.
“You may say that Moudy (Mohamed Yusuf) had a bad post season but I think that is not true. The turning point for me was when Jimmy got injured. The coach trusted me and I had to take on the responsibility and did quite well”
Najja has seen his minutes on the court reduce this season, not necessarily a consequence of his own play but the result of Ben Komakech, Jeff Omondi and Jimmy Enabu clogging the rotation.
While it would be easy to shrink away from the spotlight after City Oilers brought in the two experienced guards, Juuko has designs of an impact player – when he comes on, he gets the job done.
Juuko is not afraid to talk about his frustration at not getting as much time as he did at the end of last season but believes it is a learning process for him.
“Every player wants to play and obviously I feel disappointed at times but there is always the right time to prove” he says. “I always want to learn from him (Ben Komakech) much as he is a competitor. I like the way he points – calm and composed.”
The third year guard dreams of being the best player in the league and win in the region and on the continent.
“I want to be the best player in this league, I want to be the MVP at some point” he says. “As you win, the aspirations increase. Now that we have the league (and we want to win it again) we want to represent on the continent as well”