Cometh the moment, cometh the man. When Kenya needed somebody to step up and deliver the Morans to the Afrobasket championships, Tylor Ongwae presented himself.
And when Ongwae hit the target at the stroke of the buzzer, history was written in the African basketball scene, Kenya had downed African basketball giants, Angola, for the first time winning 74-73 to all but qualify to the Afrobasket for the first time in 28 years. Befittingly, it was delivered by the team’s captain, who was just one year old when Kenya last played at the continental scene.
Ongwae’s shot saw Kenya beat Angola for the first time in basketball history to qualify for the Afrobaskest championships to be held in Kigali, Rwanda.
With fifteen seconds remaining, Angola were ahead by a single point at 73-72.
But with possession on Kenyan hands, Ongwae calmly strolled with the ball towards the Angola half, dummied an Angolan player and coolly hit the target as the timer clocked 0.00 seconds and the scoreboard changed to 73-74 in favour of Kenya.
A new page in Africa basketball had been opened, with the Morans name on it.
The victory gap notwithstanding, this will go down in history as Kenya’s biggest win in Africa basketball.
After a nervy start to their second-round group B matches at the Palais Polyvalentdes Sports arena in Younde, Cameroon going down 69-51 to Senegal, Kenya looked poised for a second defeat against Angola, arguably one of Africa’s best basketball teams.
A 22-9 loss in the first quarter signaled a bad start for Kenya in the game and it was not looking good for the Morans.
The Kenyans picked themselves up and won the second quarter 19-17, but were still trailing the Angolans on aggregate score.
At 39-28 half-time score, nobody gave Kenya an iota of hope of winning this game. In any case, the Morans had been the underdogs from the day the fixture list was unveiled.
Angola are ranked 32nd in the world while Kenya are at 98.
But the Morans would push hard in the third quarter, which they won 15-17 and when Joel Awich’s jump shot granted them a 57-56 lead, their first in the game, during the fourth quarter, suddenly there was hope.
Tom Wamukota’s 13 points and 8 rebounds as well as Preston Bungei’s 10 points enabled the Kenyans to put up a palpitating fight with 2.01m (6ft 7ft) forward Ongwae adding 16 points to enable his side to seal the historic win.
“We’ve worked for this all our lives,” Tom Wamukota told FIBA.basketball in a post-match interview.
Wamukota, 27, was not yet even born when Kenya last played in the AfroBasket championships.
But he has emerged as one of the leading stars in the current crop of Kenyan basketballers to have rewritten history.
Kenya coach Liz Mills also made her own history by becoming the first female coach at the helm of a men’s team to qualify for the AfroBasket.
“Going to Rwanda is great. We beat a powerhouse and it’s a wonderful feeling,” Mills said.
“We came here for wins,” she added.
“We started the game poorly, but I’ve seen the maturity of these players and I knew that at some point things will work out.
“Once our defence fell in place, I knew that our offense was going to pick up as well and that’s what happened.”
This will be Kenya’s fourth appearance at the AfroBasket and the first since 1993 when they finished fourth as hosts in Nairobi. On the flipside, Angola has won the competition eleven times.