Uganda must combat Mali

Superstar. Phoenix Suns forward Wainwright is back in the squad with with 45 regular season games under his belt. PHOTO | FUBA MEDIA

What you need to know:

  • Big Miss. The team will, however, miss the services of shooting guard Adam Seiko, who made his debut at Afrobasket in 2021.

Three games played. Three games lost. That is the kind of record the national basketball team – the Silverbacks – must flip fast.

The dream is to play at the 2023 Fiba World Cup whose second qualification window tips off today at the magnificent BK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.

In group A, Mali is the only team Uganda has never beaten since the Silverbacks started rubbing shoulders with the best on the continent.

All the three losses have come in the World Cup Qualifiers and the latest, 66-76 in the first window.

That was quite inevitable after the disorganization that surrounded Uganda’s late trip to Angola last November.

Players were still arriving in Uganda’s camp as Mali did the damage to those who had made it to Benguela earlier.

There was no time to recover and only the win over Cape Verde gave the Silverbacks a 1-2 record heading into the second phase.

Better place

After a two-week camp in Egypt where the team played three friendly games, the Silverbacks are better prepared for this weekend’s action.

They might have lost all the three friendlies in Alexandria but a morale-boosting 65-62 win over South Sudan on Wednesday should provide a spark.

On paper, Mali and Cape Verde are the two teams coach George Galanopoulos’ side must not lose to.

Cape Verde defeated Nigeria in the previous window to complicate the calculations.

And, despite Nigeria only making a late U-turn to return to the qualifiers, they remain the toughest opponent in the group. The Nigerian government had put a total ban on basketball activities. This was only reversed last week after talks between Fiba and the Nigerian government.

“We are better prepared now,” team captain Jimmy Enabu, averaging nine points and three assists, said ahead of the opener.

“Having the team together for some days before the competition puts us in a better position to compete.” Compete they must. In 2018, Mali beat Uganda with a buzzer-beating shot.

Returnees

Galanopoulos is one of the returnees to the team after sitting out the first round due to his busy schedule with the Texas Legends in the G-League.

In his absence, Mandy Juruni managed to ensure the team got the all-important win to stay alive in the qualifiers.

Most importantly, though, was the shift put in by Barcelona’s Brandon Davies, who arrived just hours to the Mali game. He went on to score 24 points and collect 16 rebounds in that game but the Silverbacks paid the price for their lack of preparation. Davies is not in Kigali but another superstar in the shape of Phoenix Suns’ forward Ishmail Wainwright. 

He had not played an NBA game the last time he featured for the Silverbacks at Afrobasket Rwanda but now returns with 45 regular season games under his belt. He also got seven in the playoffs before his team was eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round.

Arthur Kaluma and Robinson Opong, averaging 12.5 points and seven rebounds, are the other stars to have missed the first round clash with today’s opponent.

The former was busy with College in the US while the latter was still finding his way to Benguela and only made it for the next two games.

Emmanuel Mugenga is also back having missed national duty the last two years.

The front court has also been boosted by the arrival of Jonathan Komagum, a 6ft 9in big man, who will make his debut.

His presence is expected to improve Uganda’s rebounding and rim protection. The team will, however, miss the services of shooting guard Adam Seiko. The man who made his debut at Afrobasket last year is not in Kigali despite being named on the team.

The federation remains tight-lipped on why the player failed to travel for the tournament.

To make the next round of the qualifiers, the Silverbacks must maintain third place or go up the log. 


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