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Zone V basketball qualifiers leave Uganda in teasing spot

Uganda's Hope Akello beats Kenya's Vilma Achieng, to go for the hoop

Uganda's Hope Akello beats Kenya's Vilma Achieng, to go for the hoop

The Gazelles, Ugandan women’s national basketball team are still hoping, that they can be handed a wildcard, and be one of the teams at the Afrobasket championship in August, writes JOHN VIANNEY NSIMBE.

The crowning ceremony for the FIBA Africa Zone V basketball qualifiers on the evening of Monday July 1, saw both Uganda’s men and women’s sides fail to carry the winners’ prize. They both finished third. Yet, it was only the ultimate winner of the Fiba Africa Zone Five basketball qualifiers, held in Lugogo from June 26, that would be part of African basketball’s greatest showpiece.

The men’s tournament runs from July 16 to 28 in Mali, while the women will be in Senegal from August 9 to 17. However, Uganda are still clinging onto the hope, that the body running African basketball can give the Gazelles a special dispensation, and allow them to be at the women’s tournament on a wildcard.

While this would be a huge boost for the development of the women’s game, the possibility of such a consideration being turned down remains big, which provides an opportunity for Uganda to reflect on why they could not qualify outright.

Kenya’s men side and Egypt’s women have no such concerns, following their triumph in the six day tournament at the MTN arena. These two sides were quite consistent, winning the games they had to, in order to ease qualification. But for Uganda’s teams, that only assembled for 16 days before the tournament started on June 26, time was not ample for them to build the required chemistry. Besides, the fact that both teams had new players introduced made cohesion even harder.

The struggle by Brandon Davies (Zalgiris Kaunas, Lithuania) and John Deng (North Dakota State, USA) to combine well with teammates, was a result of the little time they had played together. For most Gazelles, they were also playing with Urysula Cotton for the first time, despite how good the UK based player is. Nasser Sserunjogi, the Fuba president said, that it was important government financing comes in early, to facilitate better preparations.

Clearly this time, Fuba were constrained. But it also goes without saying, that Fuba must widen its finance base for the national teams, and secure more private partnerships. According to Bob Buga, a former Fuba vice-president, these can come in handy in supporting the development of the teams, through ensuring there is consistent training.

“We do not need to wait for tournaments to come calling, before the national teams assemble,” Buga said.

In addition, Buga thinks players can meet their coaches as regularly as possible, to build plays and get used to each other as a unit. That brought into perspective, Fuba’s decision to have coach George Galanopoulos from the USA handle the Silverbacks at the expense of Mandy Juruni. Because Juruni knows the players a lot more, since he works more closely with them, he is at an advantage, to make wiser decisions.

Perhaps, the way Galanopoulos rotated the team spoke volumes, and was critical in determining results. Besides, since Fuba wants to tap into the expertise of Galanopoulos, who works with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA, a better arrangement would boost Uganda’s fortunes in future.

Bringing Galanopoulos down, at least two months before a major tournament would suffice, to help him learn his players better. From that, Galanopoulos, can also watch a few league games, and summon players of his choice, following what he would have seen.

Above all, he will be able to find solutions for the many technical mistakes his team made recently. For example, in Silverbacks’ last two games against Tanzania and Rwanda, Uganda only converted 12 three-point shots, from 64 attempts. Yet, considering how small in size Ugandans are, shooting ought to be their forte. The next Afrobasket championship qualifiers will be in 2021.

That is a reasonable period of grace, for Uganda to scout more players. Key emphasis will be on taller players to play at the post. Otherwise, the fact that Davies and Deng had to play almost the entire games with very little rest, affected their effectiveness, when fatigue set in.

As Uganda take in the anticlimax to a tournament they were expected to dominate, something they did in September 2014, when they first hosted it, and qualified for Afrobasket in 2015 for the maiden time, they find themselves at a crossroads.

Nonetheless, Mavita Ali, the Gazelles assistant coach does not think there is need to re-invent the wheel. But stick to the basics, as done by the top African basketball nations, especially giving the players more regular training, international friendly matches, to help improve the team.

jovi@observer.ug

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