By Charles Mutebi
John Ssimbwa is dead and gone. But the team he founded and dedicated his life to is not.
And the Falcons are now preparing to resurrect Ssimbwa’s name from the fading sands of time by winning the 2012 Airtel National Basketball League Championship.
“We want to win it for Simbwa,” has been the catchphrase at the club that opens its postseason in a best-of-three quarterfinal series against the Ndejje Angels.
The FUBA playoffs start Frida next week and the Falcons have vowed to make this postseason, this championship about one name. John Ssimbwa.
Actually, they made that vow at the beginning of the season, when they were trying to rebuild from the rubble of last season.
Their worst ever.
Mbidde comes on stage
The year 2010 began with the tragic death of Ssimbwa, it ended in failure to reach the playoffs for the first time.
The future seemed uncertain, one question critical. Who will fill Ssimbwa’s shoes? Denis Mbidde was the obvious candidate, having been at the club for one year.
As if acting on a premonition, Ssimbwa had introduced Mbidde to the game and the club the season before his demise.
The season was chaotic and it worsened Ssimbwa’s already fragile health. He had lost the Malinga brothers to the Kyambogo Warriors before the start of the 2010 season but like he had done countless times, he rebuilt the team in time for the start.
And this time he had created a team unlike any other in the history of local basketball. It was loaded with talent, from Rwanda, Congo, Kenya and Tanzania and a championship seemed firmly within reach.
But Ssimbwa had stretched his financial muscles beyond the limit and by the postseason everything was collapsing around him.
Players were abandoning the team because of unpaid wages and the Falcons were a sad sight as they lost to eventual champions D’Mark Power in the playoffs semifinals.
By the time Ssimbwa passed away, Mbidde had seen what it takes to run an elite basketball club. He knew that the decision to take over the Falcons would have to be carefully weighed.
He chose to take charge and went about rebuilding the side.
Back to the future
This year, Mbidde turned to a collection of former Falcons players who were fleeing the troubled Miracle Eagles.
In all, he acquired five from Miracle, including the legendary Steven Omony who had spent all but two years of his basketball career with the Falcons.
He signed Geoff Omondi, also an ex-Falcon, Julius Lutwama from the Nkumba Marines Phillip Amweny and recently Abdullah Ramadan.
Coach Eteu returns
All that was left was to put in place a coaching set-up wort y of his talented squad. Enter ex-Falcon Tony Oluka and former club coach Gad Eteu.
Eteu was on the bench when the Falcons won their last championship in 2007 and he has returned as a smarter, more mature basketball head.
Above all, he returns as the man who led the Warriors to their sole title, in 2009.
Eteu knows what Ssimbwa means to the Falcons and what it means to have players doing for someone other than themselves.
“These guys are playing for a big cause,” said Eteu during the Falcons 14-game winning-run, the longest in the men’s league this season.
As Power proved in 2008, when Wilbrod Okecho’s sudden death inspired them to the title, the Falcons will be a threat in the postseason.
They have the players, the coach and, above all, an immortal cause. John Ssimbwa