NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 22 – The national men’s basketball team, Morans, scaled themselves up in Kenyan sport last year when they went all the way to the final of the FIBA Afrocan in Bamako, Mali after clinching the Africa Zone Five title in Kigali.
And now, the team is looking to earn itself even more pieces of the history books by qualifying to the FIBA Afrobasket, equivalent to the African Cup of Nations in Football, in 2021.
“I believe we stand a good chance of qualification because we have four teams in the group and three go through. It is tough but doable. Through good preparations and the good confidence we have picked so far, I believe we will be there,” skipper Griffin Ligare told Capital Sport.
The Morans progressed to the group stage round of qualification after topping the Zonal stage held at the Nyayo National Stadium with victory over South Sudan in the determining match in February.
The team had to endure a tough finale against the cross-border rivals who had their populace living in Nairobi through the small-capacity Nyayo gymnasium, but came short against the home side.
Ligare has paid tribute to the team as well as two of its foreign based members in Denmark based Tyler Okari and Spain based Ronnie Gundo who he said helped them a lot with scouting reports of the opponents.
“It was an electrifying game against South Sudan and very tough too. But despite the circumstances, we were able to calm down and execute our game plan and we are really delighted that we managed to seal that qualification.,” Ligare said.
He added; “We came together as a team and we had teammates who are abroad like Tyler who always sent us scouting reports of all the opponents and also tactical advise, same as Ronnie Gundo. We worked as a team and earned our slot.”
In the group stage round of the qualifiers, Morans will contest with Mozambique, Angola and Senegal for a slot in the final tournament which will be held in Kigali, Rwanda, primarily scheduled for 2021.
With the Coronavirus shutdowns, it is still unclear whether the qualifiers scheduled for November will go on as planned, but despite the wait, the Morans are still keeping in shape.
“This was the year we really wanted to take everything a notch higher. We wanted really to prepare well and get ready for the final tournament,” Ligare pointed out.
His sentiments are shared by his assistant and Ulinzi Warriors shooting guard Eric Mutoro who says the team will not lose its sight of the ultimate goal but will keep on training.
“At the moment we all have to contend with training at home. Unfortunately there are no rims to shoot but personally I am doing lots of cardio and morning runs to keep fit and utilizing the parking lot at home to keep my ball handling intact. It is a tough period for us but hopefully we can go through it well,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the duo is hopeful that they can help raise the profile of the game in the country with their perfect run in Uganda and Bamako last year raising their profile and they now hope they can influence the next generation of stars.
“At this moment, we are in transition because we are coming from a place where basketball was not that okay. We want to show people that there is good basketball in the country and we want to ask fans to come out and support us on the court,” Ligare states.
Mutoro adds; “When we were young, there were people we looked up to and we also know that now, there are people who look up to us. We want to be good role models and at the same time ensure that we share what we have with upcoming players.”
Meanwhile, Ligare has called on sponsors to come out and support the game, to enable it move more professional and in the long run improve the state of the game.
Currently, basketball is a semi-professional sport in the country with players balancing between either books or work and the game.
“Without money in the game, it’s hard for it to improve. Sometimes you find teams struggling to run their day to day activities but if you have someone taking care of the financial bit, it’s easier for players to concentrate and even play basketball as a job,” Ligare states.
He adds; “We love the game, we love playing but at the end of the day we want to go home with something to put food on the table. I want to call on sponsors to come out and put money in basketball. It’s a worthy investment.”
The national basketball league was initially scheduled to start this month, but with the shutdowns due to the coronavirus, the same has been put on hold.
It has however given the Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) an opportunity to re-organize their calendar to conform with most of the European Leagues.