Asiku: 13-year-old pool sensation turning tables on men

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What you need to know:

This 13-year-old prodigy burst onto the scene during a weekly competition at Amigos Bar.

Meet Junior Asiku, the name on everyone's lips in Ugandan pool circles. Calm, composed, and intelligent – his quiet demeanor is only disrupted by a youthful voice and a touch of shyness around new faces. But on the pool table, Asiku transforms into a menace.

This 13-year-old prodigy burst onto the scene during a weekly competition at Amigos Bar. Not once, but twice in a single week, he defied the odds, defeating a field of 32 seasoned players to claim a combined prize of Shs1 million. Asiku became an overnight sensation, his talent spreading like wildfire on social media.

His meteoric rise continued at the season-opening PAU Grand Open, where he competed against 127 men for the first time. Here, he proved his Amigos victory was no fluke. Though eliminated in the round of 16 by 2018 National Open champion Mansoor Bwanika in a close 6-3 match, Asiku's talent wasn't overshadowed.

The youngster's composure even under pressure was evident.  At 3-3, the umpire needed to intervene and remind Bwanika of proper etiquette during Asiku's play.

"The boy is good. He reads the game well and pockets balls naturally," lauded Pius Mpoza, a player with Upper Volta, who fell 5-0 to Asiku in the Grand Open's first round.

Asiku was later eliminated from the doubles by Joseph Kasozi and Rukia Nayiga in the semis.

Asiku's dominance continued a week later. In a thrilling Easter Sunday tournament in Kireka, he showcased his fighting spirit. Trailing behind Pool Cranes captain Habib Ssebuguzi, Asiku clawed his way back, eventually winning 4-3 in a nail-biting decider to lift the tournament.

From the streets

For years, the underprivileged communities of Uganda, like Bwaise slum, have been breeding grounds for talent in sports like boxing and pool. The latest gem to emerge from these streets is Asiku, a young man with a natural talent for the game.

Pius Ssekyewa, 29, owns Bam Sports Bar in Bwaise, which boasts a pool table in its parking area. It's here that Ssekyewa first met Asiku, one of many young boys longing for the chance to play but unable to afford tokens.

Their initial meeting in 2021 revealed a stark reality. Asiku's mother, upon hearing there was a sport called pool, was surprised. Despite initial hesitation, she recognised the potential this sport held for her son, granting Ssekyewa permission to mentor him.

Asiku dropped out of school after his father's death before the Covid-19 pandemic. He now lives with his five siblings and handicapped mother, who crafts and sells dish-drying racks to make ends meet, all crammed into a single rented room. Only his elder brother, Toko, has relocated to start his own family.

Asiku's initial adventure into local Bwaise tournaments proved promising, with losses coming by narrow margins. This potential prompted Ssekyewa to invest in Asiku's talent, seeking coaching from former Seed One Ibrahim Kayanja.

Years of dedicated training and local tournament participation culminated in Asiku's entry into the 32-man Amigos weekly competition last year. While he lost to Ibrahim Sejjemba 5-1, the experience proved pivotal.

"That tournament made me realize even senior players make mistakes. They can be beaten," Asiku reflects on his early days.

This newfound belief, coupled with support from other well-wishers who helped refine his raw talent, propelled Asiku towards success. He began winning matches against established players, earning prize money that helped elevate his family's circumstances.

Asiku's dedication is commendable. He trains three times a week, with increased intensity before tournaments. His manager provides meals every training day, along with covering his medical bills and clothing needs.

The future shines bright for Asiku. Salim Ssemambo of Wisdom PS in Kazo has offered him a scholarship to resume his education in Primary Five.

Pius Akampa, head of Schools and Institutions of higher learning at the Pool Association of Uganda (PAU), sees Asiku as a symbol of a changing landscape. With PAU transitioning into a more structured sports organisation promoting youth participation in international tournaments, Asiku's talent could propel him to stardom.

"He's a great starting point," Akampa said. "With schools like Kyadondo SS on board and talent like Asiku emerging, we have a promising future for Ugandan pool players."

Asiku in brief

Name: Junior Asiku

Age: 13 years

Place: Arua, West Nile

Place of residence: Bwaise