02 January 2015

UGANDA : Gazelles, Silverbacks break barriers

The national ladies basketball team, the Gazelles
The national ladies basketball team, the Gazelles, show off their medals after qualifying for the Afro basket and All Africa games as winners of the Zone V Championship for the first time in history. photo by ismail kezaala. 
The last 365 days were undoubtedly the greatest in Uganda’s basketball history. Aided by hosting the regional championship, the national ladies team, Gazelles and men’s team, the Silverbacks in September both qualified for the Fiba Africa Zone V Championship and All-Africa games.
The ladies; as winners while the men finished second behind Egypt. The accomplishment, a first for the Gazelles as the Men’s team had previously qualified for the 1970 Afrobasket championship in Egypt looked unlikely particularly for the ladies who lost their opening two games.
A 61-65 loss to Egypt was followed by the 52-49 defeat to neighbours Kenya that left the Gazelles bottom after two games of the women’s competition played under the double round-robin format.
Inspired by Claire Lamunu, the Gazelles won the subsequent games, 78-45 against Egypt and Kenya 64-61. The small forward scored 24 points in each of the last two games enroute to claiming the MVP and top scorers’ (76 points) accolades.
Unlike the Gazelles the Silverbacks won their first game beating Faisal Aden’s Somalia 84-74 before being brought down to earth with an 85-77 loss to the Egyptians who never looked like relinquishing their title.
With Rwanda beating Kenya 82-77, all the Silver backs needed to do was win their remaining two games against old foes Kenya and the Kami Kabange inspired Rwanda.
They didn’t disappoint; Josh Johnson sprung to life with 14 points as they beat Kenya 83-71 while Stephen Omony delivered the Holy Grail with a game high 25 points in the 69-61 defeat of Rwanda.
That success was in no small part, down to the behind the scenes work done by the national team committee that ensured smooth preparations even after the tournament was postponed from June to September.
Lugogo Arena
Still with off court issues, the past season has not been the best in terms of organization of the Airtel National Basketball League (ANBL). Some issues like the unavailability of the Lugogo MTN Arena were beyond the federation. This meant a sizeable number of games were rescheduled with the outdoor YMCA court unable to host games during the wet season.
The federation is however on the spot with Vegetarian now threatening to go to courts of law contesting their relegation after a rescheduled game against Sharing Youth was awarded in favour of the latter.
That result meant they forfeited two points to leave them on 25 after 22 games and in 11th position, one point less than Diamond in the Sun which finished 10th.
On court, City Oilers dispelled any doubts if there were any, about the best basketball team in the country. Having won the league in their first season in the topflight in 2013, City Oilers repeated the feat rather emphatically with a seven game unbeaten run. Trailing 2-0 in the semi finals against UCU Canons, Oilers won three straight games to clinch the series 3-2 and set up a final against Tiger Head Power which edged Warriors 3-2. The final proved a mismatch with the double act of Kami Kabange and Jimmy Enabu inspiring Oilers to a 4-0 series sweep.
In the ladies, Claire Lamunu capped a hugely successful year averaging a series high 21 points to lead KCCA Leopards to a 4-3 series win over UCU Lady Canons.
At the regional level, Ugandan clubs were not as successful with City Oilers, Tiger Head Power and KCCA Leopards in the ladies all falling at the semifinal stage. UCU Lady Canons meanwhile finished fifth after being knocked out in the pool phase.

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