KAMPALA- To opposition defences he can be one constant nag. But when you sit Henry Malinga down for a chat, he is some amiable bloke.
Together with his young brother and Riham Warriors teammate Eric, they have been a mystery for defences in the region for a decade now.
The 6ft 5in centre – clad in his green playing kit at the Sprite basketball exhibition last Friday at the Makerere pool side court - opened up to Daily Monitor about his career. His strong conviction that Warriors will defend the league title could not go unnoticed. “I’m very sure about that (title),” he says, “We are working really hard and within the team, we know we shall defend it.”
Warriors have won two league titles but failed to defend their first, clinched in 2009. And their quest to defend last year’s will have to pass not only the test of time but also the tactical acumen of coach Mandy Juruni – the man who led Warriors to the gong last season but has since changed address to City Oil, who they face in the Airtel National Basketball League tonight .
“Mandy coached me and I have lots of respect for him. Now he is at another club and we both now have to help our respective sides win the league.”
Low post master
Henry is regarded as the country’s best low post player, even at 34. No one dominates the D than the tricky centre, who credits coach Ronnie Kaboha for polishing his trade.
Coach Emmanuel Samanya will be credited for discovering Henry in the late 90s, and teaching him the basics, so is a one coach Kaggwa, a former basketball star.
“Both were great, including Smarts Olumbo, but I will give much credit to coach Ronnie Kaboha on the low post,” intimates Henry. “Internationally, Hakeem is my inspiration,” Henry bellows in his rather Evening Radio deep voice, “Hakeem Olajuwon.”
He says that name with the calm and confidence the Nigerian-American former Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors centre, arguably the greatest low post player in NBA history, dominated with.
Egypt praises & Elungat future
American sports journalists in their analyses contextualised Olajuwon’s game by saying the 7ft star could play one full game without repeating a single move.
“That’s why when I play,” says Henry, “Whatever move I pull I try as much as possible to have plan B, C and D.”
Henry mentions Ndejje’s Geoffrey Soro and Jonah Otim, Warriors’ Sam Gombya, City Oil’s Samuel Kalwanyi and Jimmy Enabu, plus UCU Canon’s Egau Jonathan among players from the current crop headed in the right direction.
But he sees someone else as his heir apparent. “I do not know what people think about Peter Elungat (Falcons) but what I have, Elungat has,” he says, “Elungat has and does everything I do. I always talk to him, and he knows.”
Henry was part of the Ugandan team that lost to Egypt 80-67 at the Zone V Championship, January in Dar es Salaam but his performance left the Northern Africans wondering ‘which NBA team’ he played for.
“Honestly the fact that they recognised me made me feel good. I’ve always wanted most of these professional players to at least feel the heat Ugandans can give them and let them realise that we may not have so many things but we have a couple of players out here that are equally good, probably even better than them.
“I feel Uganda as a nation has a lot to offer. We should be doing much better than we are doing now, honestly speaking. We really need to go down to the grassroots and work on the technical bit now.
“That is why most foreign teams beat us. You can have this talent but if you do not have the right technical personnel to nurture it, it will always remain just that – a pool of talent.”
Henry’s biggest regret remains missing out on the opportunity of going to the US to prove himself in early 2000.
“We had a chance of going, me and Eric and some other guys, he says, adding in a resigned tone, “But we lost hope. We thought we were not going to travel. We had been to the US Embassy for visas not once. The whole team had gone to the Embassy like four times.”
On the day Henry, Eric and a couple of other guys gave up on returning to the Embassy is when visas were finally handed out to the present players. “That has been my biggest regret. But it drove us on.”
Falcons & Warriors
Henry had established himself at Warriors, where his career started, but felt he needed a fresh challenge as his beloved Kyambogo Family, as they were called then, had not shown signs of improving.
“But when Falcons came calling, I told them that if I had to move, I had to move with my brother, Eric.”
Eric was to stir on the brothers’ first tournament with Falcons, the Abraham Lincoln, where they beat Mombasa Combined in the final.
“I was just recovering from malaria and was not that fit but Eric was in fine shape. That is when Falcons realised that Eric can really play.”
The brothers went on to win with Falcons a three-peat in 2002, 2003 and 2004, with Henry being named MVP in 2002, 2004 and 2007.
But how could Henry turn his back on Falcons, a team some call his home, never mind others leaping to his defence that he had returned to where it all started – Warriors?
“The reasons I left Falcons to come back to Warriors were purely to get another challenge. And no, Falcons had not lost focus. They were only slightly diverting from their original program and Warriors seemed to be the right place, administratively.”
Then there was the small issue of John Ssimbwa (RIP), Falcons’ heart, soul and founder, who had stayed with Henry in his last days on earth.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made,” intimates Henry, “I tried my best to explain to Falcons, who I’m grateful to for exposing me. We are on good terms.
“I also went with Eric and we explained to Ssimbwa. He never tried to stop us from moving. He understood and gave us his blessings.”
Henry, however, dismisses ‘pub talk’ that their move devastated Ssimbwa, who was later to pass on after a long illness.
“I have had that (pub talk) but I don’t think that is the case. It was God’s call.”
HOW HE STARTED
• Started in football, practicing with Maji FC while at Kyambogo College.
• He freaked out and quit after two Maji players warned him off ‘their bread’, telling him he was still a young man and that ‘they had families to take care of.’
• Played as a defensive midfielder, goalkeeper and striker at school.
•While watching Warriors (1999) training in his S.6 vacation. coach Samanya asked him to join in and play full court.
• Samanya asked him to return and the rest is history.
• Henry says starting late drove him to catch up with the rest as most of his mates had already played at high school.
• He intends to go into coaching after playing. He already has a beginners.
• League titles with Falcons in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2007
• League title with Warriors in 2012
• Led Uganda to 2005 Zone 5 Championship title when they beat Kenya. He says that was his best game in his career.
• Abraham Lincoln tourney in 2000.
• Named league MVP in 2002, 2004 and 2007
• Has five rings, like his brother Eric.
Sweetest ring: The first with Falcons in 2002
Hardest ring: The third with Falcons, the only team to win three in a row.