Albert Ahabwe is perhaps the most unheralded member of the national basketball team, Silverbacks, though one of the most knowledgeable about the journey walked so far.
He is an internet freak and most those hours are spent on basketball. His probe is behind the discovery of so many players with Ugandan heritage.
These are often introduced to the idea of featuring for Uganda. Some have taken it up. Therefore, there shouldn’t be so much new for Ahabwe ahead of the Afrobasket qualifiers in Egypt starting today.
Uganda face Egypt at the Ittihad Sports Club in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria first.
Morocco is next tomorrow and Cape Verde Sunday. All games will be played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I will tell you this bro,” Ahabwe states. “I’ve managed Silverbacks for seven years. This team right now? Best team chemistry ever!”
It’s a bold statement marinated by confidence, faith and most importantly…hope. It’s the hope that kills you, so they say.
Coach George Galanapolous reaffirmed that. “This is the first time we have had this specific group,” he says.
This will be the first window of the qualifiers before the second round next February implying that Silverbacks, like the rest, need a minimum of one victory.
The top three teams from the group will automatically qualify to the Fiba Afrobasket 2021 to be held in Rwanda. Before the Silverbacks made their Afrobasket debut in 2015, the national team was either half-baked or hastily arranged. The availability of foreign-based players has almost failed to halt the door from revolving with the exception of the now-retired Stanley Ociti and now-regular Robinson Opong.
The latter, playing in Canada, has since returned along with Emmanuel Mugenga (France) and Deng Geu (Denmark). Ishmail Wainwright, a 6ft 6in forward, is the most exciting amongst the newcomers. With an average height of 6ft 3in, Uganda is smaller than the opposition.
This has implored coaches Galanopoulous and Mandy Juruni to find more weapons during a two-week pre-event camp. “If you look the squad, it is a little bit deeper, we have got more shooting, and we’ve got more versatility so we’re excited to see how the style of play will fit this personnel and vice versa,” Galanopoulos explains.
On that roster is Canada-based guard Eric Rwahirwe. “Eric is a guard we have been following for the last two years,” Juruni reveals.
“He was in college and is playing professionally in Canada and has so many good things that we lack as a team. He is a big guard 6’5 and is a very good shooter. We have been lacking consistent shooters and we have that in Eric.” While Uganda is positive about its chances, the hosts Egypt, five-time African champions will start as favourites.
Vastly experienced Morocco are 1965 champions and reached the semi-finals at Afrobasket in 2017.
Cape Verde, by virtue of coming through the pre-qualifiers, will be viewed as underdogs and will be largely unknown quantities.
Egypt vs. Uganda, 6.30pm
Uganda vs. Morocco. 6.30pm
C. Verde vs. Uganda, 6.30pm