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Ugandan basketball women qualify for Africa Championship

By Vision Reporter

Added 30th September 2014 02:06 PM

The national women’s basketball team (Gazelles) and their male counterparts (Silverbacks) started Sunday with a chance to do something that had never been done before.

Ugandan basketball women qualify for Africa Championship

The national women’s basketball team (Gazelles) and their male counterparts (Silverbacks) started Sunday with a chance to do something that had never been done before.


FIBA Afrobasket Zone V Championship Qualifier

Results: Women
Kenya 61 Uganda 64
 
Men
Rwanda 61 Uganda 69
 
 
By Charles Mutebi
 
KAMPALA - Dreams come true. And when they do, everything changes. Ugandan basketball may never be the same again after Sunday. September 28 2014. Remember it… for now, the greatest day in the history of Ugandan basketball. September 28 2014.
 
The day that could completely change the course of local basketball. For the better. A day that started with two massive dreams and ended with two massive achievements.
 
The national women’s basketball team (Gazelles) and their male counterparts (Silverbacks) started Sunday with a chance to do something that had never been done before — secure qualification to FIBA Afrobasket Championship.
 
Uganda were represented at the 1970 Africa men’s Championship in Egypt but that milestone, which was thanks to luminaries like Hillary Onek (now a cabinet minister), James Okwere and Okalebo, happened so long ago and on the eve of a tumultuous 15 year-period for the country that it is nearly non-existent in the present day conscience of local basketball. In other words, what the Gazelles and Silverbacks achieved on Sunday felt like a first.
 

Uganda Gazelles' Sharon Karungi (C) beats Egypt's Manar Ehab (L) and Dina Salem
 
It is definitely a first for the women’s basketball team to qualify for both the African championship and All Africa Games. It is also a first for both the women and men to reach the continental stage concurrently.
 
Winner-takes-all
 
Inevitably, all the focus has now shifted to the joy of Afrobasket qualification but it is worth recalling the final battles which the Gazelles and Silverbacks won for the dream to become reality.
 
The Gazelles faced Kenya in a winner-take-all contest that turned the Lugogo indoor stadium into a nervecooker.
 
With everything on the line, the pressure was unbearable. But eventual tournament MVP and top-scorer Claire Lamunu drained a game-high 24 points and Rebecca Akullo added 11 as the Gazelles overturned a 27-22 halftime deficit with an 18-9 third quarter that eventually gave them a 64- 61 win.
 
“I am too excited,” Lamunu said post-match.
 
“I can remember how we came from the bottom (with two opening defeats) and now we’ve won.”
 
For the Silverbacks, it was Steven Omony who added another star to his legendary game-winning show against Rwanda in the subsequent match.
 

Silverbacks players Josh Johnson and Kassim Nagwere join fans in celebration. PHOTO/Michael Nsubuga
 
Omony sank a game-high 25 points on a night when both sides struggled to find any offensive flow, leading the Silverbacks to a 69-61 win over Rwanda.
 
“This is definitely the highlight of my career,” conceded the usually guarded Omony. “I will show my excitement at the after-party.”
 
The fans showed their excitement on the spot, descending onto the court after the final whistle to congratulate their heroes and staying behind until after the prize-giving ceremony.
 
The future
 
For FUBA president Ambrose Tashobya and his Team Uganda management team led by Mohammed Santur, this was perfect justification for their sacrificial behind-the-scenes efforts.
 

Basketball star Joseph Ikong (L) and another fan celebrate Uganda's qualification. PHOTO/Michael Nsubuga
 
But as usual, visionaries are quick to move past their successes. “What we’ve achieved is huge for local basketball,” said Tashobya.
 
“But it is most of this moment. The impact of this will depend on how well we harness it. In life, everyone gets their chance and time but it is up to how you use it. This is the time for Ugandan basketball and we must make the most of it.”
 
But Tashobya also outlined some of the immediate benefits likely to follow the national teams’ successes. “Our achievements broke the mental barriers off local basketball,” Tashobya explained.
 
“We proved that we can beat Kenya and Rwanda, which many doubted. This success will also build aspiration among young players because if you come from a family where no one has driven a car it might be hard for you to aspire for it.
 
“Thirdly playing at the continental stage will get the focus of Africa and World on Uganda and it also gives us a chance to sell the game to the rest of the country.”

Ugandan basketball women qualify for Africa Championship

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