31 December 2012

UGANDA : Warriors break finals jinx

Blick (left) entrenched his standing as a legend of local basketball by inspiring Warriors over Steve Omony’s Falcons in the final of the 2012 Championship
Blick (left) entrenched his standing as a legend of local basketball by inspiring Warriors over Steve Omony’s Falcons in the final of the 2012 Championship
By Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo
All the pain of the previous two seasons for Warriors ended with their first National Basketball League title. The losing finalists to DMark Power in each of the past two years celebrated quicker than the last two finals which have gone the distance. Warriors’ first title since 2009 came within six games of the best-of-seven finals. An ‘old’ hand in Ronnie Kasewu, the 2009 MVP, delivered it.
His game-high 25 points, six rebounds and five assists gave Warriors an enthralling 88-81 win over Falcons and a second title with 4-2. It crowned quite a season for Warriors in which they won all but just two of their 22 regular season games giving coach Mandy Juruni an enviable 37-3 record over the past two years.
The failures of the past were corrected with the signing of Norman Blick and Cyrus Kiviri from Miracle Eagles and Ndejje University Angels respectively. Blick finished the season with not only his fifth national title but as Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the playoffs to hand Ivan Enabu his first title after years of painful failures. Blick is unquestionably up among the greatest to have played basketball in Uganda.
Power falter
As Warriors reclaimed the podium in their fourth successive appearance in the final, their rivals, Power, with whom they have contested the previous three finals, made an early exit. The introduction of quarterfinals in the postseason gave Power a tough matchup against UCU Canons in the last eight. UCU took it 2-1 and went to lose 3-2 to Warriors in the semifinals.
Power, champions in the three of the past four seasons, were brutally exposed for their lack of size and the glaring lack of set-plays. They just couldn’t contend with an improved Desmond Owili inside the UCU paint and were even worse defending Sudi Ulanga on the perimeter. Star point guard Ben Komakech was a shadow all season and his renaissance next year is the first correction Power might need to reclaim their glory.
However, they were the best performing team, along with women’s side KCCA Leopards, as they finished third in the Fiba Africa Zone V Club Championships hosted at the Lugogo MTN Arena.
The indoor venue had its own share of news as it was closed by the then NCS chairman Anthony Katamba, who was sacked or resigned, depending on who you listen to, over the saga.
The losing finalists, Falcons, had tried to force their way into the Zone V event only for their request to be turned down as only two teams were allowed per country. It was a successful season for the record champions as this was their first final appearance since losing to Power four years ago.
The past three years have been the worst in their history. Chaos started when Omony, signed for a widely reported Shs72m from Seychelles, walked out over unpaid wages.
In 2010, a player revolt over unpaid wages brought the club down to its knees. And last year, Fuba docked Falcons eight points for fielding Ameny illegally. They ended up fight Philip ing relegation.
If that was the lowest ebb, the death of founder John Ssimbwa last June could have sunk Falcons entirely. There was a lot of uncertainty even about their existence.
Somehow, chairman Dennis Mbidde put together a team capable of challenging for honours. “This season has been a success for us,” a gracious Omony, who rejoined from Miracle Eagles, added. “We have to keep this team together,” Omony challenged the management. Ameny thinks this is now his ‘family’.
“It has been quite a turnaround from last year. The team has grown to be a family. We need to learn from our mistakes and come back stronger next year.” Omony had a very consistent season but was piped to the regular season MVP accolade by Ndejje’s Geoffrey Soro who also collected the top scorer’s plaque.‘
Just like Warriors, KCCA picked up the pieces of losing 4-0 to UCU Lady Canons to win the national title coming from 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. The women’s final went down to a decider. And KCCA emerged top as UCU mourned the absence of forward Purity Odhiambo, the 2011 MVP.
Odhaimbo missed the final three games of the series following the death of her mother who was very sick throughout the playoffs. The women’s division remained a two-horse between KCCA and UCU though the return of A1 Challenge to the playoffs and the growth of Magic Stormers was a sigh of relief.
This was similar in the men’s topflight as Fuba’s decision to increase the number of topflight teams to 12 from the usual 10 exposed the gap between top and bottom.
Airtel Uganda came on board as league sponsor, ending Fuba’s seven-year marriage with MTN Uganda.
Along with Castle Lite, Rwenzori Water and Kinetic Management Group, the sponsors have improved the game. The financial details of those deals remain anyone’s guess at this point and it was quite an anticlimactic awards ceremony on the Lugogo floor.

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