On Saturday August 15, 2015, the final of the Fuba-Junior NBA League was held at the Lugogo Indoor Arena with Abraham Meron scoring a game high 39 points and 16 rebounds as KISU Bucks defeated Mashariki Pelicans 66-51 to emerge inaugural champions.
For many of the moderate crowd in attendance that included two-time NBA All-Star Luol Deng, the first season was all about the 5ft diminutive frame of point guard Fayed Baale.
The youngster’s ball handling, dribbling, competitiveness and vision earned him the Most Valuable Player (MVP)’s gong after impressing the crowd and dropping 36 points, seven rebounds and recording 10 steals in that final.
Unknown to many, Zayed Yahya Kamal, his coach, at Mashariki High School who he credits for his early development had only just introduced, Bbaale to the game that year. “I started playing basketball at Mashariki High school and I was 13 years old. Coach Zayed introduced me to the game of basketball though I was more interested in soccer.”
“So when I went on playing I picked up the interest in the game mainly after the Junior NBA league,” Baale told Daily Monitor.
“I was first struck by how mature his touch and decision making were when I first saw him winning the Junior NBA MVP with Mashariki High School. The confidence and poise were beyond his years,” Team Uganda coordinator Albert Ahabwe said of what he first made of Baale’s performances.
“I think he was also playing for LC Hovers in the Lower Leagues. For a Senior 2 kid to play in the league was already magical I must say. He possessed all round skills. Children at that age are not always that fundamentally sound and confident in themselves.
He was coming off the bench but when he got a chance to get on, the speed of the game changed and somehow more players started scoring than just their traditional scorers. He was already a game influencer. But what attracted me more was he looked hungrier and hungrier after every possession and his hard work after a turn over,” opined Brian Rugyendo, head of the Uganda Basketball Coaches Association.
The youngster soon joined the I-hoops academy where his skills were further horned by stalwarts Jimmy Enabu and Ben Komakech.
“He’s hardworking and creative. He challenges himself everyday,” Enabu said of the youngster who also featured for the national Under-18 team - the Junior Silverbacks.
Baale was the sixth highest scorer at the Fiba U18 African championship held in Mali in 2018 where he averaged 15.7 points in six games.
He also emerged as the Division One Men 2018 regular season MVP and top scorer with 301 points while featuring at Rez Life.
Yet despite that success Enabu has been surprised by Baale’s progress in the National Basketball League (NBL) on his debut season.
“Kids don’t usually play with that kind of confidence in their first season in the top flight,” added Enabu who sees a few similarities between the two and came up against Baale in the NBL playoff finals that concluded at the start of this year.
His UCU Canons coach Nick Natuhereza, who is confident of the player achieving greater heights has also commended those attributes.
“I liked his skills level, but his toughness too. He is not afraid to express himself against anyone. I knew he would be able to compete and play but not at the level he has been able to.
“He is basically one of the top guards in the country right now,” Natuhereza says of his first impression about the player he first coached with the Junior Silverbacks.
Natuhereza, who has worked with several budding talents at UCU, is also still expecting further improvement from his guard.
“We are working on him getting stronger, faster. And find more ways to score, shooting and finishing in the paint, he adds.
Baale averaged 11 points in the Best of Seven playoff final series picking the Player of the Game award as UCU forced a decisive Game Seven before the Oilers clinched the title after restricting him to six points.
Stopping him in subsequent seasons could soon turn out to be a more difficult task.