For Joseph Ikong, every dribble is a mark. Every make or miss sticks. Every inbound counts for much. And, above all, every contribution cannot be understated.
Now 35, the small forward who made his debut 16 years ago, perhaps understands how far the national basketball team - the Silverbacks - has come more than many.
The Silverbacks need only one more qualification victory to make the Afrobasket for the third successive time.
Second in Group E, Uganda must beat one of Egypt, Cape Verde and Morocco in Monastir, Tunisia starting Thursday to make the 2021 Afrobasket in Kigali, Rwanda. “When we went there, no one had experience at the level with the exception of Stanley Ocitti and Stephen Omony (who had played in big leagues),” Ikong said of the Afrobasket bow in 2015 in Tunisia.
“It was learning. We experienced 30,000 seater capacity stadiums (for the first time), saw professionals from Europe and the NBA and we took lessons.”
Indeed, Uganda, having qualified at home the year before, got a rude welcome. They lost 77-55 to Tunisia, 98-59 to Nigeria and 60-56 to Central African Republic in group stage. Senegal joined the feast with a 79–48 victory before Uganda shed some skin, beating Zimbabwe 72-64 to finish 15th out of 16 teams.
Ikong, who missed the first qualification games in Egypt last November due to a hip injury, argues that, that mauling made them improve three-fold when they made it to Senegal in 2017.
“We played well in Senegal. The losses were small. We lost (94-89) to Angola, who are always favourites, in Overtime,” he says of the 11-time African champions.
Uganda against lost narrowly 57-54 to Central African Republic and 79-70 to Morocco. They improved to 13th in 2017.
What happens next? “This is an opportunity to play at the highest level on the continent. I am fully fit and health wise okay. I know we are going to qualify.
“The difference is continuity and growth. When we first came here, we didn’t have nothing. Now, we have prepared ourselves, not like coming out of a box,” Ikong vows.
Everything is so different from 2005 when Ikong was one of the young crop that included Ben Komakech, Ivan Enabu, Edward Bongomin and Ken Balyejusa.
The Malinga brothers; Eric and Henry, Rogers Sserunyigo, Sam Obol, Moses Wasswa and David Kiberu took the seniority role even when they were largely university students.
“Back then, we won the qualifiers, beating Kenya by two points but didn’t travel to Egypt. At the time, we were not well organised, the federation had none and the government wasn’t supporting us.
“Then came a spell of no participation before Ambrose (Tashobya) became basketball president and revived the national team. So, this is a new chapter,” Ikong concludes.
Second round Africa qualifier
Dates: February 17-21, 2021
Venue: Monastir, Tunisia
Thursday, February 18
Uganda vs. Egypt
Saturday, February 20
Uganda vs. Morocco
Sunday, February 21
Uganda vs. Cape Verde
City Oilers: Jimmy Enabu, Tonny Drileba, Ikong, Komakech, James Okello UCU Canons: Titus Odeke Lual, Fayed Baale Sharing Youth: Ceaser Kizito, USA: Ishmail Wainwright, Arthur Kaluma Denmark: Deng Geu Canada: Eric Rwahwire, Robinson Opong