Kenya’s national men’s basketball team is eyeing qualification for the FIBA Afro Basketball Championship.
Coach Cliff Owuor told Xinhua on Saturday that when the Morans return to the international scene to contest the FIBA Afro Basketball 2021 qualifiers in November, they will look to puncture the aura of invincibility that many North and West African teams have shown over the years.
Owuor’s team has their task cut out, to quickly learn the ropes, focus on their mission and stamp their authority on unfamiliar territory, last traversed in 1993.
“A lot has changed, especially in the manner in which we prepare the teams. So far, for the two competitions, we prepared well and I am happy especially how we have been adjusting to the sessions. We have played top teams in friendlies like Cameroon and done really well,” Owuor said.
Until last year, Kenya was never taken seriously in the international basketball circuit. However, all that changed when Kenya made it through to the final of the FIBA AfroCan championship in Bamako, Mali, a tournament solely for home-based players, and lost 82-61 to Democratic Republic of Congo.
In their cruise to the final, Kenya showed glimpses of their brilliant talent as they claimed the scalps of teams like Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
However, focusing on the upcoming FIBA Afro Basketball 2021 qualifiers, coach Owuor is adamant that something must give in and allow Kenya to return to the apex of continental basketball, as one of the teams capable of clinching the title and perhaps sneaking into the 2023 FIBA World Cup or the 2024 Olympic Games.
“I have a dozen players who have gone on to play abroad. I want to draft them in the squad as the steel to wrap on the fringe players. Should I get all my players who are based outside the country in good shape and we train well for the tournament, we should do well,” said Owuor.
At the FIBA Afro Basketball 2021 qualifiers this November, Kenya will be up against Angola, Mozambique and Senegal in Group B. The top three from the group will make the finals in Rwanda next year.
“I have envisioned this task in a dream. I remain optimistic Kenya has a strong chance to return to the continental show after a 27-year hiatus,” said Owuor.
The coach believes the many years of squad development has seen the likes of guard Tyler Ongwae and forwards Desmond Omondi (Australia), Ronny Gundo and Robert Nyakundi (USA) make inroads abroad, a significant impact that the other players will want to emulate and thus lift the general level of play.
“Exposure is something good. If my players who are out there are able to play it will add a lot to their confidence. It will also help the others who play alongside them,” Owuor said. “That is why I am really interested in their progress during this time,” he added.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the team’s training program, the coach has sounded a warning to his charges never to rest on their laurels and continue pushing themselves in training, albeit in isolation.
“I monitor their performances and also the video clips of our opponents, Angola, Senegal and Mozambique. It is down to discipline, sacrifice and dedication, which I want each player to show, to earn my respect and move out to enjoy their game on the court,” said Owuor.