By Charles Mutebi
The mastermind of the Falcons' last national basketball league championship is dead.
Kenyan Thomas 'Smatts' Olumbo lost his long battle with illness Saturday at Nairobi's Mbagathi's Hospital, taking with him a wealth of basketball knowledge that was the envy of Zone Five.
Olumbo is arguably Kenya's greatest coach, with a bevy of local and regional achievements spanning over two decades. But in Uganda, Smatts will always be remembered for his magical act in the Falcons run to the 2007 FUBA men's top division title.
Underdogs from onset of the 2007 playoffs, the Falcons were on the brink of elimination after losing Game 1 of the best-of-three semi-finals by over 20 points to overwhelming favourites UCU Canons.
New on the scene, UCU employed a stifling full-court press that had bamboozled the entire league, giving Jason Mehl's team a division-best 17-1 record at the end of the regular season.
When UCU humbled the Falcons 71-49 in Game 1, the series seemed finished. Enter Olumbo. Falcons' owner John Simbwa - now also deceased - called on his friend, who was in the middle of his own coaching engagements in Kenya.
Olumbo spent a week with the Falcons ahead of Game 2 and was on the bench as Eric Malinga and company shattered UCU's vaunted press and their title hopes to win the series 2-1. The Falcons subsequently fell 2-0 behind the Kyambogo Warriors in the finals.
But again, the Falcons rallied, this time winning three on the trot to claim a record sixth title.
"He had a great impact (on our title run)," recalls Malinga, who was part of the team.
"He was very inspirational. By the time you walked out of a training session, you had 10 times more belief than before. He was very insightful and knew how to use his team's strength against the opponents' weaknesses".