•A 74-68 triumph against the Sudanese in a winner take it all tie at a jam packed gymnasium, only pushed Kenya into the already waiting hands of continental giants Angola, Senegal and Mozambique.
• One of the key things in my plans is to beef up the squad and organize for some friendlies–Oduor.
Good preparations is all that national basketball team coach Cliff Owuor needs to propel Kenya to the FIBA Afro Basket championship for the first time in 27 years.
The continental bonanza is slated for Kigali, Rwanda in 2021 and by winning the Zone Five Pre-qualifiers in Nairobi in January, Morans already have one foot in the tournament.
The Nyayo National Stadium gymnasium regional championships saw Kenya beat all the five challengers including South Sudan, Tanzania, Somalia, Burundi and Eritrea. But their next program will surely be a tight one.
A 74-68 triumph against the Sudanese in a winner take-it-all final tie at a jam-packed gymnasium pushed Kenya into the already waiting hands of continental giants Angola, Senegal and Mozambique.
This battle royale pitting the four teams in the next phase of the tournament is slated for November at a venue yet to be determined. Three teams will qualify and Kenya will have to be at their best.
But Owuor is convinced he can scale these heights but he will have to beef the squad by again calling some key diaspora players, start early training and organise some friendly matches.
“One of the key things in my plans is to beef up the squad and play some friendly matches. We already have an invitation to Morocco. There are also plans for a four-nation tournament here against Egypt, Rwanda and South Sudan,” noted Owuor.
He said that as part of their final preparations, the team also plans to go to the USA to play against some college teams. They have approached a renown American Christian group, Athletes In Action (AIA), to be their host.
“If we can manage to successfully work out all these, we will be all set to play at the top level. I am optimistic that we will be up to the task. The exposure will key,” he said.
Kenya has not made a podium finish in their three earlier trips to the continental championships. The bad spell started with a trip to Abidjan, Ivory Coast in 1985 before moving to Luanda, Angola in 1990.
In the two events, Kenya finished last among the participating teams.
Then came the third tournament played here at home before their fans at the Moi Stadium, Kasarani indoor arena in 1993.
Here, Kenya defied all the odds and made a huge leap finishing fourth in the 12-team tournament. A huge achievement but, unfortunately, served as their last appearance as the event continued every two years without Kenya’s participation.
But Owuor remains upbeat this worrying trend will change. He is convinced the performance of Morans in Bamako, Mali during the inaugural FibaAfrocan tournament last year shows they are headed in the right direction.
Owuor's charges shook Africa and put the nation on the continental map making the first podium finish as they bagged silver. The good run started in the zonal qualifiers in Kampala, Uganda, where they slammed the door firmly shut on their perennial stumbling block, Egypt.
But what did the United States International University (USIU) tactician, given the reigns of the national side for the first time, bring to the team?
He points out that the team remained positive throughout the tournament and were never distracted by any sideshows like lack of allowances.
"Our mindset was on performance. Nothing else mattered. I asked my players to avoid every destruction and focus on the task ahead and this is one reason why we reached far," said Owuor.
Owuor, who also handled APR of Rwanda for years — guiding them to the Africa Club Championships three times — maintained that studying their opponents was also an important factor.
“We never went to matches without watching our opponents' style of play. I took few minutes looking at all the quarters. I also looked at match statistics and analysed it after which we discussed our opponents' top individual players,” he said.
Owuor went on: “We rested well. After our meals, we went to bed early and slept like babies. Above all, discipline was paramount in that we did.”
Owuor pointed out that, in future, there is need for lengthy preparations and that KBF needs to liaise with employers so that they can release players for longer periods.
“It will help in future if all players are released to join camp early by their employers. Ten days before the team travels, all players should be available," said Owuor.
“We had situations where players kept disrupting the camp because they had to report to work and then come for training. We would have performed better if we had prepared better.”
There is also need to address fixtures for teams which will have players in the national team.
“They should be given a break from league assignments when they are training for national duty. Taking players out of the city for away fixtures need to be addressed. It is tiring.”