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JKL Lady Dolphins and the making of a new star

Jamilah Nansikombi goes for the hoop, as UCU's Angella Lokwamweri tries to stop her

Jamilah Nansikombi goes for the hoop, as UCU's Angella Lokwamweri tries to stop her

Jamilah Nansikombi of JKL Lady Dolphins scored the most number of points, 83, in the women’s play-off final against the UCU Lady Canons. This was fundamental in ensuring that JKL won their maiden league title last month.

Nansikombi inspired a 4-0 whitewash of UCU in a best-of-seven-series, ending their three-year stranglehold on the women’s game. This did not only leave the basketball fraternity waxing lyrical about Nansikombi’s display. But it also instigated a new debate on whether she is the best female basketball player in the country today.

With an average of 20.7 points per game in the play-offs by Nansikombi, there is probably little debate that she will win the season’s MVP award. That has been the trend anyway. The top-scorer in the series is usually the MVP.

Even in 2016, when the basketball fraternity witnessed one of the most fascinating and competitive women’s play-off finals between UCU and KCCA Leopards, it was a close contest between Judith Nansobya of UCU and Martha Soigi of KCCA, both of whom had scored 108 points, an average of 15.4 points per game.

But because the series had gone the full length of seven games, with UCU edging it 4-3, fortune tilted the scale in Nansobya’s direction, and therefore, she ended up scooping the MVP award, at least according the Uganda Sports Press Association.

Yet, for the case of Nansikombi today, the debate now is not simply about whether she is the best player today, but about a burgeoning talent, that could be the all-time greatest female basketball player?

According to Tom Ocamringa, a basketball coach, Nansikombi is a unique talent in the women’s game: “Her ball handling, dribbling and shooting skills are really good. Not often will you see ladies with the amount of potential she has.”

The things that Nansikombi does with the ball are more common in the men’s game, which has brought Ocamringa to insist she is a special and unique talent. By Nansikombi’s admission, much of her basketball development has had a lot of male influences.

In her formative years, she only played basketball with boys, because there were very few girls that played the game. One of her childhood teammates and opponent at the same time was City Oilers’ small forward Jonathan Egau. That is why Nansikombi plays with so much speed and energy.

This has also made her a mainstay on the national 3 on 3 women’s team at each major international tournament in China, Madagascar and Philippines, Uganda has been to this year. Hamza Nyambogo, who is Nansikombi’s national team coach, thinks that she has the hallmarks of a female ‘Stephen Omony’.

Omony is arguably Uganda’s most complete and versatile basketball player of all time. And as Nyambogo drew comparisons, he said, “Nansikombi has the potential to play in all basketball positions. Not only is she fast to make a drive, and a good ball handler, meaning she can operate in all back court positions from one to three, she is agile and swift. With her leap, she can play number four too. That is how talented she is.”

However, Nyambogo insisted that Nansikombi can improve on her game reading and also be a player, whose ability can bring the best out of the others around her. Great players make average teammates look exceptional too. A case in point is how LeBron James turned an average Cleveland Cavaliers side into NBA champions in 2016 against all odds.

That said, Mavita Ali, the KCCA Leopards coach, and 2005 champion with ladies team A1-Challenge told The Observer, that it is too early to start suggesting whether Nansikombi is the best. Ali said, “Hyping her this early will put her under so much pressure, which could affect her game.”

Nonetheless, Ali concurred, that she had not seen a female player as athletic as Nansikombi. But Nkumba Marines coach Timothy Odeke thinks that any talk about the best female basketball player in this country, would be foolhardy if it did not include Claire Lamunu.

Lamunu plies her trade in the USA today, and as a frontcourt player (a big man), her impact has been felt in all teams she has been in, from KCCA to the Gazelles (the women’s national team). Lamunu has won a lot, which cannot be said of Nansikombi, who has just won her first championship.

Maybe, since Lamunu and Nansikombi are both national team players, only time can pit them together, for everyone to make their own call on who is indeed the best overall. Nevertheless, even Odeke, who believes Lamunu is good both offensively and defensively, the latter of which he feels Nansikombi has to work on, agrees that she is a big prospect, seeing all the attributes she has.

In fact, in one of the rarest of acts in the women’s game, particularly for a young player like Nansikombi, 21, she played an entire 40 minutes in game two of the final without being substituted. But even in the other games, she played an average of 35 minutes.

Nansikombi’s JKL coach Henry Malinga attributed this to her reliability. Her game goes beyond being simply flashy and an entertainer, which many basketball fans delight in, as far as Nansikombi is concerned. She is fit and unbreakable.

Such has been the story of her team en route winning the 2018 championship. And no one like Nansikombi embodies that true tough spirit of JKL (Just Kip Living). The JKL ladies team was started at the end of 2015 by Fred Owora a.k.a Freedom with his friends, to try and help young girls play basketball, as they go to school at the same time.

Nansikombi was one of their first recruits through their former coach Boniface Okello, who handled the St Mary’s SSS Kitende basketball team. Because of Okello, JKL had its eye on scouting players from school, who are a big composition of the team now, that began in the women’s second division in 2016.

In 2017, when they secured promotion to the top flight league, they added the experience of proven winners like Flavia Oketcho. Another winner Ritah Imanishimwe joined from UCU this year, to provide the good team balance, for the success they enjoy today.

But one outstanding fact about JKL, is the overall organization and dedication of the management, which has made the team formidable. Yet, the eyes that spotted Nansikombi and brought her to JKL cannot be credited any less, because she looks a real gem in the making. 

jovi@observer.ug

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