Silverbacks, the national basketball team, returned home yesterday after a baptism of fire at the just-concluded 2015 AfroBasket in Tunisia. With just a single win in five matches, Uganda finished 15th out of the 16 teams that took part. FELIX EUPAL assesses the key elements that need to be corrected.
The national team steering committee deserves a big pat on the back for doing everything possible to get the Silverbacks to qualify for the tournament. They dug deep into their pockets to get the foreign-based players into the country to add depth into the squad. However, for a tournament of such a continental magnitude, the Silverbacks only had less than two weeks to train as a whole.
They only had two build-up matches against a select team from the top-flight basketball league, which wasn’t sufficient enough. On top of that, coach Mandy Juruni was left to do it alone after his assistant Gad Eteu failed to show up at the last minute.
Given that the local league has many qualified coaches fit to fill Eteu’s void, one wonders why nothing was done to have a replacement. This left the Silverbacks shorthanded on the technical front.
On the other hand, the mix-up on the paperwork of the foreign-based players just meant that Uganda shot itself in the foot. International rules stipulate that a team can only have one naturalized player but Uganda had two; Brandon Sebirumbi and John Balwigare. When it came to choosing one, Balwigare was dropped despite the fact that he was Uganda’s best player at the Zone V qualifiers for the AfroBasket.
The Silverbacks’ biggest Achilles’ heel was the endless turnovers. While most of the other teams greatly depended on their shot accuracy, it wasn’t the case with Uganda.
The Silverbacks might be the giants in the East African region but for them to be contenders and not pretenders in Africa, shooting has been emphasized and practiced more.
It goes without saying that the Silverbacks have to hit the gym to stand a chance against the towering opposition players. Apart from Stanley Ocitti and Seburumbi, the rest of the Ugandan players were no match when it came to size. Samuel Kalwanyi would have been a bigger threat in the paint had he had more muscle. It would have been the same case for seven-footer Marial Dhal.
Grassroots key to the future
Local basketball body, Fuba, recently conducted a Junior NBA league that had 30 schools participating. The programme, structured around players under the age of 15, unearthed several budding young talents and the best way of getting continuity for the Silverbacks is to follow up on their progress.
Only then will Uganda stand a chance of going toe-to-toe with the big boys of African basketball.