Before a nation or league attempts to “produce” its own LeBron James, it would be well-served to produce the next Ariel Okall.
On the surface, such a statement reads like a joke laden in sarcasm. Some might say it is bordering on mockery.
However, one must be cautious to assume a player like Okall is not as valuable or less important on the basketball court than the stars and shooters that garner the attention.
That would be a massive misstep in judgment. In essence, it would put the joke back on you.
Of course, Okall is never going to grab the headlines like LeBron and Stephen Curry internationally or Taylor Ongwae locally.
But the reality is that for you to have the Lebron James, you must have players like Okall who slot in and out different line-ups based on formation, opponent, day of the week, need for the team, and any other extraneous situation demanding their graft and grind.
As Okall enters a new decade on the court, it’s no secret that his professionalism, fitness, versatility and threshold for physical output is still off the charts.
Okall is not only able to push the pace of these efforts, he does it consistently year after year. Performing better than several players who are younger, he always finds yet another gear to push the upper limits of his output.
When he debuted for Nakuru Basketball Club at the age of 20 years in 2010, it was obvious that there was something different about such a talent as he became mainstay in the line-up in his initial seasons.
Over the years, the volume and level of play ramped up as Okal turned out for Kenya Ports Authority, Falcons (Uganda), Ahli Sidab (Oman), PLS Hawks (Seychelles), Savio (Tanzania), Dhofar (Oman), US Setif (Algeria), KU Titans (Uganda) and now Al Bashaer in Oman,
It is due to his versatility, discipline, reliability and willingness to play any position when called upon that he has been able to feature for three of Asian basketball’s powerhouse clubs in recent years.
So what is it about Okall’s longevity that few players reach well into their 30s playing at the highest level of club basketball?
Speaking during an interview with the Standard Sports, Okall, who is fresh from helping Al Bashaer win two titles in Oman, said he is motivated to continue performing and winning as well as encourage the young players who look up to him.
“What keeps me going over the years? I have asked myself that the last few days and the perfect answer would be, I don’t play to satisfy my competitive self but lately I am playing for all those young upcoming players who look up to me,” said the Kenya Morans forward.
“I am playing for the people who find inspiration from my work and that makes me feel like am changing a few lives which fuels my competitive drive.”
Okall added a ring to his already rich basketball resume last month after being crowned the 2021 Oman Basketball league champions.
“Playing out here is hard. Mental toughness is key. The league is set up differently,” he said.
As if that was not enough, the 31-year-old bagged his second title earlier this month after winning the Oman Sultan Cup.
“You get older and too many people are looking to see what you and they find some motivation from your work so you cannot stop,” said Okall, an older brother to Kenya Lioness star Felmas Koranga who is based in USA.
“It’s hard sometimes to maintain that status but if I stop doing what I do, what happens is I let down myself, my fans and also my little brothers and sisters who love the game.”
The 6’9 forward has now played for three different teams in the gulf. He joined Al Bashaer in February but the season was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic forcing him to fly back home where he temporarily featured for the KU Titans in Uganda.
Okall, was available for all the league games with his new team, missing only a couple while on the national assignment with the Morans team in Cameroon, earlier in March.
He said owes the championship to the great squad that was assembled by Al Bashaer management.