• We have a chance to make it to the final round but we must work hard considering the kind of opponents were will be facing in the November qualifiers —Owuor
• If they qualify from the two-phase series, scheduled to end in February next year, Kenya will return ticket to the continental showpiece for the first time in 27 years.
National men’s basketball team head coach Cliff Owuor is convinced Morans have what it takes to return to the continental championships slated for Kigali, Rwanda next year.
With November dates against 11-time champions Angola, five time winners Senegal and Mozambigue out, Owuor have plans to put his boys through a programme that will produce results against some of Africa’s best.
If they qualify from the two-phase series, scheduled to end in February next year, Kenya will return ticket to the continental showpiece for the first time in 27 years. Of the four teams in the group, only one will miss out.
“I am calling on my players to keep training on their own both here and in the diaspora. If possible, we will have some sessions with few players to see their focus. I will also organise for some friendly matches,” he says.
“We have a chance to make it to the final round but we must work hard considering the kind of opponents were will be facing in the November qualifiers.”
When Owuor was given the task to guide the national team to the Fiba Africa Zone Five qualifiers in Kampala, Uganda in 2019 by the Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) not many gave him a chance to succeed.
But on his debut appearance as the team’s head tactician, Owuor made himself a huge statement by shutting out the nation’s perpetual stumbling block Egypt from the top prize. It was the first time ever Kenya got the better of the Egyptians at this level.
Despite falling to Rwanda in their other game of the championship, Owuor had done enough home work to secure a spot in the newly-introduced Fiba AfroCan tournament in Bamako, Mali.
The team’s performance in the Kampala festival was good but still no one was sure how Kenya would fare against the trio of Nigeria, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, all of whom were headed to the World Cup in China.
Against all odds, Kenya posted important wins and booked a final ticket against DR Congo — a team that had beaten them earlier in the tournament. They again lost but grabbed the silver medal — the country’s first ever podium finish.
But who is Owuor and what does he have in store for Kenya as we head to the November qualifiers? In less than a year since his appointment, his stars seems to rise. But does he have what it takes to go all the way considering Kenya’s past results?
He says he is ready for the task ahead and is just waiting for the action to resume once the coronavius pandemic has been contained. He knows that’s when the job will start.
“If I have all my players including the ones in the diaspora for training in good time, we should be able to do well and move on to the tournament proper. I am sure will give it our best shot and make the country proud,” he says.
Owuor threw himself into the limelight in 2005 when top Rwandese club APR announced they were looking to hire a professional coach from Kenya to take care of their team.
Upon receiving the information Ronny Owino, Strathmore University and national women’s head coach, approached Owuor and asked him if he would like to take the opportunity. He grabbed the chance with both hands.
He embarked on the long journey to Kigali unsure of what lay ahead. He straight away got to work and was there for 12 years. He guided the forces team to many local honours, including national league titles.
“The team was very happy and received me well when I arrived. That weekend they had the Gisembe memorial tournament which they won. Consequently, we won the trophy for seven more years,” Owuor reflects.
Under his stewardship, the team bagged the national league title four times in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009. They also finished runners up in 2010, 2011, 2012 and were placed third in 2007, 2013 and 2014.
Besides, they also won Zone Five championships three times and represented the region in the Fiba Africa club championships three times — 2007, 2008 and 2009 bagging a bronze medal.
He also had stints with the national men's team (2005), women's team (2006) and took the Under 18 boy's team to the 2010 Africa Fiba championships.
Owuor was born on March 10, 1973 in Kisumu to Ibrahim Odhiambo and Fediliah Auma. He went to Nyabondo Boys Primary School before proceeding to Kisumu Boys High School in 1988.
It was here that he embarked in playing the game. In his final year at the school in 1991, he led the team to the provincial finals scooping the Most Valuable Player (MVP) gong.
After his secondary education, he played for the local club Kisumu Lakers up to 1992. He started coaching the same year, handling Kisumu Day High School and took them to the district finals where they lost to Kisumu Boys in 1992 and 1993.
Owuor moved to Nairobi and joined Moi Air Base (MAB) in 1994 playing as a point guard. He also doubled up as player/coach before being noticed by Kenya Christian Industrial Training Institute (KCITI) after the institution started a basketball program.
It was here that his coaching ability started to show under his mentor Tony Mauldin, former coach at the Abilene Christian University, an NCAA Division II college side in Texas, USA.
At KCITI, he won his first major trophy with the 'Wildcats' when they lifted their first ever KBF Division Two title. They had a good run, losing only one game throughout the entire season.
The team was promoted to Division One in 1997 where they finished sixth. However, the team pulled out of the league in frustration when riding high and formed the University and College Basketball League (UCBL) a year later.
Owuor and Mauldin were instrumental in it’s creation. Its climax was the Final Four tournament that brought over 3,000 students. KCITI were dominant, winning the crown for three years running with Owuor bagging coach of the Year Award.
Mauldin sent him to University of Arizona in 1997 where he spent three months. He planned practise sessions with the coaches there attending their games.
Upon his return, he worked closely with other well-placed and respected local coaches among them Owino, Thomas Olumbo and Sammy Wanjohi.
While at KCITI, KBF noticed his talents as a tactician and assigned him to handle both the men and women’s national teams in 1998. He was only 25 years old.
Both teams won the East, Central and Southern Africa championship in Seychelles that year.
He was also in charge of the national women's team in 2000 and men’s side in 2003.
After an impressive three years in the UCBL, he moved to Premier League side Ulinzi Warriors, gradually transforming the side and in 2002, they were ready to challenge for the title
Warriors won the KBF playoffs tournament and qualified to represent Kenya in the regional clubs championship. In the same year, he led the Warriors to their first-ever continental title, beating Angola convincingly to lift the first Africa Military basketball championship in Nairobi.
After his two-year stint with the soldiers, he joined Sprite 'Stormers' for a fresh challenge. The team did well, managing to finish third in the league.
In 2002, he went back to USA and visited various basketball programs in including high schools, colleges at different levels as well as the National Basketball Association (NBA).
He attended Wylie High School programme, the Texas Tech University program and the Dallas Mavericks sessions under some of America's best tacticians.
“The experiences gained in the USA by interacting with some of games’ best tacticians have greatly contributed to my success as a coach,” says Owuor.
He also had opportunities to attend various coaching seminars, camps and forums organised by Athletes in Action (AIA) in 2009, 2010 and 2011 in Columbus and Indianapolis.
In 2011, he led the national women's team to the All Africa Games in Mozambique where they finished sixth in a 12-team championship.
His quick, impressive and consistent success can be attributed to the passion he has for the game and the great teachers of the game that he has spent time around including three years under Mauldin.
His contract with APR ended in 2017 but did not return home until a year later, when he joined USIU as their coach in September. At the time, the institution's two teams, the 'Tigers' and the 'Flames were struggling to avoid relegation.
While the ladies team survived by the skin of their teeth, the men’s side dropped to the lower division. Owuor says they will not be there for long.
His immediate task when action resumes is to steady the ship and ensure the two teams return back to the top once again. The Flames are two-time league champions while the Tigers have also made it to the finals.
He has already drawn plans for both teams going forward.
“I want to revamp the basketball programme at the institution and get the teams back to where they belong and make them the best in East Africa region,” he says.