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Uganda women’s basketball team heads to World Cup

For the second time in its history, Uganda will be competing at the Federation of International Basketball Association (Fiba) World Cup. From June 8 to 12, the national women’s basketball team will be in Manila, Philippines competing with 19 other nations for the coveted world championship trophy.

Uganda is in pool ‘C’ alongside Andorra and Iran, who seem reasonable opponents on paper. But more significantly, in the same group, are two elite basketball nations, USA and Russia. These will definitely give Uganda the chills, although rubbing shoulders with such top basketball sides should fill Uganda with pride.

Left to right: Uganda's team members, Ritah Imanishimwe, Jamilah Nansikombi and Sarah Ageno

However, while these prospects will excite the basketball fraternity at home, the kind of game Uganda is going for, is not the customarily known five against five basketball. Instead, it is the recent Fiba innovation, the 3 on 3 version that is putting Uganda on the global scene.

So, what is this 3 on 3 basketball? Regular basketball has five players a side. The 3 on 3 game, which is played on half a basketball court with one hoop has three players each side. A full game runs for 10 minutes. But it may not even have to stretch that far. The first team to score 21 points wins the match.

While a basket made in the ordinary game earns a team two or three points (save for the one point from the free-throw line) depending on which area of the court the attempt has been made, in 3 on 3 basketball, only one and two points can be earned from a converted basket.

Each 3 on 3 team has one substitute, so a full squad comprises of only four players compared to the 12-man full squad in the regular basketball. Uganda’s squad has Rita Imanishimwe, 21, Sarah Ageno, 22, Jamilah Nansikombi, 21 and US-based Claire Lamunu 24.

Imanishimwe, Ageno and Lamunu play for the national women’s basketball team, the Gazelles, in the original format. Lamunu, in particular, inspired Uganda to its first Fiba Africa basketball championship in 2014. In the same year, she led the KCCA Leopards to the national championship, their last.

Conversely, Ageno and Imanishimwe joined the Gazelles two years ago. They thus carry relative experience. On top of that, Imanishimwe and Ageno carry bundles of the winning mentality, owing to the three championships in the last four years, they guided the UCU Ladies basketball team to.

Therefore, it is little surprise they made the team to the Philippines. Yet, Hamza Nyambogo, the team coordinator/coach explained further the criteria of picking the team: “You have got to be a smart player. Because this is not 5 on 5, in the 3 on 3, there is an element of extension of roles. A player must be adaptable and able to apply themselves effectively in different situations.”

For example, Nyambogo added that in 3 on 3 there are no specifics like point-guard, shooting-guard, small-forward, power-forward and centre, the five roles, as stipulated in a regular basketball game.

“Here,” Nyambogo explained: “Each of the three players must have good ball handling ability, post plays, speed, passing and shooting.” The 3 on 3 game is a big test of game intelligence by and large. In fact, Ageno who plays as a power forward (a big man) at her club told The Observer, “The 3 on 3 game has helped me improve my general awareness of the game.”

Hamza Nyambogo the coach

Ageno added that this kind of game has taught her to think fast, because of the limited time and space of play. “My handles (ball handling and dribbling) and shooting have also improved a lot,” she explained. The 3 on 3 game is one Fiba innovation Nyambogo believes will help nurture children better in all the facets of the game.

But beyond that, it is a solution for poor communities, where the space for play is limited. Once one can manoeuvre through tight areas, the moment they get onto the wider court, they will thrive. This form of game enables even four players to play against themselves with one hoop to shoot at.    

Ambrose Tashobya, the Federation of Uganda Basketball Association (Fuba) President said that following the creation of Rugby 7s or T20 cricket, Futsal, shorter versions of major sporting disciplines, Fiba saw it fit, to come up with something similar.

The 3 on 3 basketball is really exciting, because it is quicker. It does not drag, so there is little chance of getting bored. But more importantly for Uganda, competing on the world scene is a mark of the progress basketball has realized.

“Although the version of the game we are going for is not the most famous, yet (as the original game is) among basketball lovers in the country, it is a huge boost to the country’s reputation globally, that we know basketball,” Tashobya said.

Therefore, success in the Philippines will be phenomenal for Uganda in raising its stock even further. And as Imanishimwe stressed, they are in the kind of shape, to feel confident in their powers. However, she noted that because they do not know the specifics about their group opponents, they cannot pre-judge anyone.

Meanwhile, a lot can be gained by the wider scope of basketball in the country in terms of contacts and opportunities each time Uganda competes at the highest level.

Tashobya said that world governing body, Fiba, was fast-tracking Uganda’s progress in basketball. From a technical perspective, this is a gateway to aiding capacity building in the country through extension of technical support among other things.


June 9:

  • Uganda v Russia (11:30am)
  • Uganda v Iran (1pm)

June 11:

  • Uganda v USA (11:50am)
  • Uganda v Andorra (2:30pm)


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