More than a year ago, a spinal cord injury almost ended Derrick Katumba’s promising basketball career.
The injury, resulting from a bodaboda accident, came just three months after he had joined one of the country’s most successful clubs – Dmark Power.
“I was going home on a bodaboda when we got knocked by another (bodaboda). A nerve in my spinal cord was damaged,” Katumba recalls. For four months, Katumba never played his favorite game as he received treatment at Mulago Hospital.
The accident happened in May 2012, threatening a promising career that had seen him play for DMark Power and Proline Heaters just after finishing secondary school. He started playing again in October 2012.
“I resumed training lightly with my friends and brothers at Makerere University poolside court when I returned from hospital,” he says.
Luckily for him, his physiotherapist Dr Robert Ochan, gave him the all clear to play competitive basketball again in December 2012.
He had a gut thought that he had sat out too long to make a comeback in a competitive Power side so when a deal came through from Charging Rhino at the start of last year’s National Basketball League, he didn’t think twice.
The 6’2 ‘big man’, thanks his current coaches Ronnie Mutebi and Hamza Mneno for believing in him. “They have had a great impact in my comeback because they believed in me and gave me this chance at Rhino,” he reasons.
The season went on well for Katumba even though his new team bowed out at the last eight stage of the playoffs.
Rhino lost to Power, and though losing to his former employees should have hurt, he says: “It was a big challenge and emotional for me facing my former team. But Power were more prepared to win that game. Most sportsmen want to make a statement when playing against their former teams but I tried to remain disciplined because I don’t have any regrets about my time there.”
Ironically, Katumba’s best performance last season was against his former employers in Game Two of the aforementioned playoffs. He scored 23 points, 20 rebounds and made four blocks.
“I play centre or power forward depending on our opponents,” he says of his versatility.
Asked whether he would return to Power later in his career, he shies away before saying: “In sports you never rule out anything but now my emphasis and focus is on Rhino.”
He adds that Rhino are still a young team and if they keep together and remain focused then they can challenge for a top-four finish in the upcoming season.
“We really did well last season so we should be proud of ourselves,” he says. “We are young and we should work harder next season and probably be in the top four. On a personal level, the sky is the limit. All I have to do is keep seeing my therapist every Wednesday and work more on my fitness because I sat out for long.”
Katumba was inspired by his brother Brian Ssentongo who plays for Ndejje University Angels and their cousin Francis Kasekende of KIU Titans.
Ssentongo hopes that his brother has put the nasty injury behind him and can now concentrate on getting his career back on track.
“It was a tough time for Derrick because that injury came when he had just recovered from a broken arm but he has been around players who have been through thick and thin so that should push him to forget about it and play his game,” Ssentongo shares.
Katumba started playing basketball in his senior two at City High School under the guidance of his school coach Justus Mugisha but he can hardly compliment anyone without first mentioning of Ssentongo and Kasekende.
“Brian really introduced me to the game and I look up to him because he has won a lot. Francis is not only a cousin but the big brother in the game. He has an edge over me because of his experience and I also learn a lot from him. I hope to beat his achievements but we all have many years of playing ahead of us,” Katumba says.
He then caps the recognitions with his coach, “My biggest mentor is coach Justus (Mugisha). He helped me learn the game when I had just started but I also thank coach Brian Wathum of Proline Heaters for his guidance,” he notes.
Name: Derrick Katumba
Favourite player: Andrew Bynum (Indiana Pacers)