BARRING a major disaster, the menâ€™s national basketball playoff line up of 2008 will be similar to last yearâ€™s.
The Mogas Falcons, Kyambogo Warriors, UCU Canons and Sadolin Power quartet may prove too strong to breach. This is mainly because the Nkumba Marines, the only club that could have realistically posed a threat, is still engulfed in a drawn-out battle to retain Norman and Donna Blick, and Carol Bisereko, who want to join the KCC Lions.
The passion with which the Marines have struggled to hold onto the three, is only equalled in intensity by the playersâ€™ determination to leave the club. As a result, holding onto to players with such divergent ambitions may affect Marinesâ€™ title challenge.
Needless to add that if the threesome is eventually retained, the title may have one other serious challenger.
Power, one of the four challengers, faces a season that will be defined by the absence of Wilbrod Oketcho as much as any internally loose screws.
Power have made self-destruction an integral part of their campaigns in recent years but even that may not eclipse the unavailability of Oketcho for the first time since 1999 in crippling effect.
The talismanic centre was shot in the thigh last month and will miss the upcoming season. Finding an able replacement will define Powerâ€™s drive.
Return signing Isaac Afidra would be a decent replacement only he does not fancy himself in the paint. Still, Oketcho will lead Power from the sidelines, where the absence of an able occupant emerged as the biggest hurdle to the clubâ€™s aspirations last year.
The UCU Canons came so close to a full blown explosion last season after sweeping through the league with unprecedented dominance. However, in failing to win the championship, the aura that had been accrued with their supremacy was lost.
The season promises to be much tougher for the Mukono side, whose opponents will know they are no longer the unbeatable force of 2007.
The Canons outfit would, rather than get sucked in, use this to their advantage by assuming a surprise element. In addition, how they blend in their new signings will determine the impact of loosing key players like Phillip Odur.
After reaching their maiden play-off finals last year, with some style too, the Warriors should believe that this is their year. If the phrase â€˜attitude determines altitudeâ€™ ever made sense, it was in identifying the reason for the Warriorsâ€™ ineptitude at the deeper end of local basketball.
The Warriors have the best set of attackers but when it has really mattered, they have chocked. No need to restate their collapse in last yearâ€™s final. But they can claim that in getting there for the first time, they showed their ability to dispel psychological obstacles.
Consequently, with mental weakness and inexperience barriers having been shed off, the Warriors can go all the way this season.
The reigning champions will take some beating. Mentally superior to everyone, able to raise their game when they must and at home when the stakes are highest, the Falcons will offer nothing new but why should they.
Their blueprint for success is reliable and the onus is on their rivals to prove otherwise.
The six-time champions will be armed further by their participation in the regional club championships later this year. The taste of foreign competition will give them an edge over their local rivals.
Moreover, as long as their rivals fail to find a vaccine for the Malinga brothers, they will always succumb to the Falconsâ€™ deadly effect.
As it is, the defending champions look set to amass a record seventh title.
A four-way hunt for the 2008 basketball crown