Morans keep Afrobasket dream alive in season disrupted by COVID-19
Morans’ player Valentine Nyakinda warming down after training during the unveiling of Morans team at Nyayo National stadium.Nov 7, 2020. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The year 2020 was indeed one of the most unpredictable in the history of mankind.

The coronavirus that first emerged a year ago in Wuhan, China, swept across the world in 2020, leaving havoc in its wake and local basketball was not spared from its disruption.

More than any event in memory, the pandemic has been a global event and Kenya was not spared, with sports particularly being hardest hit.

With the pandemic spreading fast, the restart of Kenya’s national basketball leagues was halted with the government restrictions to public gatherings, contact sports and cessation of movement laws imposed for months.

However, there was a positive aspect of the season that came at the tail end of the year when the national men’s basketball team, Morans, played in the Fiba Afrobasket qualifiers last month in Kigali, Rwanda.

Kenya recorded two consecutive group match defeats, losing in their opening matches against Senegal 92-54 before going down to Angola 83-66 despite putting a spirited fight.

Morans would, however, overcome the last match pressure to bounce back to winning ways in their final group game against Mozambique with a 79-62 score-line.

The top three teams in each group from the qualification play-offs after the second leg will qualify for the Afrobasket Championship that will be held in Kigali, Rwanda next year.

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, Kenya hosted the preliminary qualifiers of the 2021 Afrobasket Championship at Nyayo Gymnasium where Morans beat all their opponents.

The Morans edged out Eritrea 112-64 before defeating Tanzania 95-59 in the second match.

Morans keep Afrobasket dream alive in season disrupted by COVID-19
Kenya Morans Power Forward Ariel Okall. [Courtesy]

In Game Three, Kenya thrashed neighbours Somalia 102-77 before registering a 101-83 win against Burundi.

Kenya would seal their ticket to the second round of the Afrobasket qualifiers after crashing South Sudan 74-68 in a tight match that witnessed Griffin Ligare and Robert Nyakundi combine for 45 points to send Kenya through.

Morans garnered 10 points after five wins in the five games while South Sudan finished second with nine points after winning four of the five games.

Burundi came out third with eight points while Somalia finished fourth with seven points.

Tanzania settled for fifth place with six points as Eritrea came out sixth with five points after losing all their five games.

The dominant performance earned Morans the dream ticket to the second phase of the qualifiers where Kenya is now one win away from making it to the Afrobasket finals.

Morans power forward Ariel Okall said their achievements was as a result of team work, confidence and belief considering the disruption from the virus.

“The year was tough because most players were stuck in different countries. The pandemic also disrupted our training we couldn’t access the facilities, weight rooms at Nyayo were closed for reservations and government stopped sporting activities,” he said.

“This means the league was off and the local-based guys had no games for a whole year and the impact was seen in Kigali. Our game shape was our main issue and also the chemistry was a problem. However, we fought well in Kigali and despite the two losses we still have a chance.”

The Algeria-based forward said they are upbeat of ending Kenya’s 27-year absence at the men’s basketball continental championship.

“Our chances are good, winning that one game was very important because it places us third in our pool, three teams will qualify and as of now we are okay. In February we will play our second round the host is yet to be known but we are confident we will do well.

“We are also confident we will beat the teams that beat us. With good preparation anything is possible,” the former KPA forward added.

With one leg into the Afrobasket Championship that will be held in Kigali, Rwanda next year, Morans, under coach Cliff Owuor, lived to their big name tag and will be hoping to go all the way next year.

In the local scene, national men’s basketball champions Ulinzi Warriors were denied a chance to defend their title this year after suspension of the Kenya Basketball Federation Premier League.

Ulinzi won the league last year after defeating Thunder 3-1 in five-game series final playoffs after topping the regular league with 43 points having lost only one match.

Morans keep Afrobasket dream alive in season disrupted by COVID-19
Eric Mutoro (L) and Preston Bungei during evening training season at Nyayo stadium on November 12, 2020. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The win saw the soldiers put to an end to Kenya Ports Authority dominance in the domestic league after the Dockers won the league three consecutive times in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Ulinzi will be representing the country in the second edition of Basketball Africa League (BAL) championship which was created last year after Africa Zone Five Championship for men was abolished.

The inaugural edition of the tournament, featuring Africa’s best basketball clubs, was initially set to start in March but it was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The BAL, a joint partnership between the International Basketball Federation and the National Basketball Association (NBA), is a professional league featuring 12 clubs from across Africa. It marks the NBA’s first collaboration to operate a league outside North America.

Ulinzi will also seek to qualify for the BAL by advancing through the qualifiers starting in January next year and becoming the first Kenyan side to do so.

2018 champions KPA failed to qualify for the inaugural BAL championships after falling short in the second round of the qualifiers that saw Ferroviaro of Mozambique and Patriots of Rwanda qualify after finishing second and first.

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