In the spirit of the playoffs, here is Uganda’s best five of all time

Chatti (right) in action against Ndyamagye in an undated photo during their time

All it took was one game in the fervently contested semifinals, and the contrasting behavior and fortunes of two players who were the focal points of these playoffs, to rekindle a debate that has raged on within me for ages.

Years ago Silver Rugambwa, a former player and now administrator with the history-making City Oilers, asked me who I would pick in my best Ugandan starting five of all time.

I glossed over it at the time, in the knowledge that only a handful of people on the forum Silver and I shared would be interested in that debate anyway. Last Friday in Lugogo, the need to put it out to a bigger audience was stirred in me as I watched events unfold at the MTN Arena.

One of the two players to relight that desire in me was Norman Blick, but ironically this time because of what was terribly wrong, in stark contrast to what the other - Stephen Omwony - was doing in the same period. Long after the warm-ups and as the City Oilers and DMark Power players were taking to the court for game three of their series, Blick and a few other Power players were just sauntering in.
Whatever Blick’s excuse, tip-off time had been public knowledge for days and he ought to have made adjustment if he was taking this seriously.

As a result a supposed starter began the game on the bench, appeared disinterested when he was eventually introduced, and then turned on the style late in the 4th quarter, but it was too little too late as Power lost the game and eventually the series.

Omwony on the other hand has been the consummate professional, the personification of seriousness and a mean competitive streak that has made him a love-hate figure as opposed to Blick’s party-buddy demeanour, but one which has seen him inspire Falcons past defending champions Warriors and into the final.

Blick is of course a fierce competitor himself, one who in more strict environs than the ones at Power roused Warriors to their first championship last season. These two guys were my focus in the semis, although there were other players with as big or even bigger impacts on the outcomes of those series, like Oilers’ smooth operating centre Kami Kabangu (Rwanda) and ageless Falcon Abdullahi Ramadhan (Tanzania).

Foreign players have left their mark on Ugandan ball since I first saw the Karuletwa brothers from Rwanda star for Power in the early 90s.
He was a Power star too, but I played with silky Tanzanian Patrick Nyindo on the Makerere University team that won the league in 1995, and there have been several Kenyans over the years, including current big centers Desmond Owili (UCU) and Phillip Ameny (Falcons).
But to the foreigners another day, because what I choose here is my all time best Ugandan five, one which not only represents ability but versatility and longevity too.

Vincent Chatti
You could throw this guy a basketball at 90 and he would still catch, dribble and shoot it. One of the most durable sportsmen I have ever laid eyes on, Chatti is the best point guard Uganda has produced. Whether he was attacking the basket, shooting a three or finding a free teammate with a great pass, Chatti was always in charge. Chatti was already the star with the jaw dropping moves when I started out as an S1 kid in ‘86, yet he carried on for much longer after I had quit.

He was the ultimate entertainer he could have played for the Harlem Globe Trotters, but also a competitor and winner he could have graced the NBA. There have been oustanding playmakers over the years, like Chatti’s pal Mark Walungama Kateete back when, my cunning-footed university hallmate Charles Baryamujura, SMACKists of different eras like the intelligent Archilles Mugagga and frightening quick hands Joshua Masiko, and a whole host of talents from the Kabohas (especially Nimrod), the Hakizas Harry and Humphrey in the 90s, to the skillful Enabu kids of today. But there is only one Chatti.

Norman Blick
Perhaps the most naturally gifted player Uganda had seen, Blick can play all the roles from 1 to 5 although I bring him in at shooting guard. He came into the game as a tall skinny kid about the time my knees gave in, and has amazed until now. There is virtually nothing Blick cannot do on both ends of the court, and is perhaps the only player in Ugandan history with the ability to inspire any team he played for to a championship, as Sky Jammers, Power and Warriors will attest. At his peak he should have played in the US, Europe or anywhere else in the world, with ease.

Stephen Omwony
He was the best of the new brigade that literally kicked my creaking bones off the court in 1997 or thereabouts, starting out as our understudy at Blue Jackets and going on to be the immovable pillar around which Falcons built that dominant side at the turn of the century. One of those with whom you can’t tell where the talent stops and the hard work starts, he has been Uganda’s most successful export with his exploits in the Seychelles, and like Chatti and Blick he too looks like could go on forever. I play him at small forward here, but like Blick he can play anywhere on the court.

Robert Ndamagye
Arguably the best of my era, Ndamagye was a rival in high school when he played for Caltec and I for SMACK, at Makerere where his Livingstone and my Lumumba fought fierce battles for the university title, in the league where his Charging Rhinos bettered my Blue Jackets. We played together briefly for the national team and a measure of his ability was that he coached us on that team too. A good scorer from up close and from range, a tough rebounder and defender who like wine got even better with age, Ndamagye could execute all five roles too but is my power forward.

Henry Malinga
If it was just about size then seven footer Sam Gombya would be Uganda’s biggest centre in every sense of the word, but he started out late and has a long way to go. Uganda has not produced centres of size, ability and potential, perhaps apart from the brothers Patrick Wabwire (SMACK) and Fred Wandera (Rhino) back in the day, and the most naturally talented was Paul Odur (Makerere College and Rhino). He didn’t last as long as Malinga has, the man whose great leap, Hakeem Olajuwon-esque low post spin moves, rebounding and shot blocking have been the dominant thing in the paint for years, despite troublesome knees.

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