• But for Morans to book their ticket for the 16-team continental bonanza set for Kigali, Rwanda in 2021, they must first navigate their way out of a Group ‘B’ which also features the AfroBasket hosts Senegal, Angola and Mozambique.
• Mali was my second assignment after Kampala. The games were tough, fast and very mentally challenging — recalls Mutoro.
With the Fiba AfroBasket qualifiers slated for Dakar, Senegal in November, Kenya Morans are convinced they can marshal their troops and make a serious statement in the championships.
Coach Cliff Owuor is lining up a formidable side whose sole aim will be to return the national team to the continental scene for the first time in 27 years.
But for Morans to book their ticket for the 16-team continental bonanza set for Kigali, Rwanda in 2021, they must first navigate their way out of a Group ‘B’ which also features the AfroBasket hosts Senegal, Angola and Mozambique.
Coach Owuor is specifically putting hopes on says of his star guard Eric Mutoro, the Ulinzi Warriors stalwart.
“Eric is one of our key players in the upcoming championships. His positive attitude and effort is amazing. He energises the team on the offensive end with his runs and the three-point shots,” said Owuor. “On defence, he really pressures the ball and gives us steals that changes the course of the game.”
The lightning-quick point guard is one of Owuor’s secret weapons going into the upcoming two qualifiers that will be played in two phases with the second window set for February 2021.
Mutoro, one of the team’s key performers burst into the national scene less than a year ago in Kampala, Uganda where the team had gone for the Fiba Africa Zone Five qualifiers.
He says: “In regard to the November qualifiers, we are prepared and as a team. We have been keeping in touch since the ban on sports activities (due to Covid-19) through zoom meetings and scouting reports on our opponents.”
“We cannot wait to resume camp and prepare physically. I believe that if we prepare well, nothing is impossible. We can make it.”
That is the kind of news that the basketball fraternity and the entire nation wants to hear. Going by his performance during the team’s success in the pre-qualifiers played at the Nyayo Stadium in January, then there is hope.
When Kenya went to Bamako, Mali mid last year for the AfroCan show, many did not know what to expect. But against all the odds, the team beat top guns to bag a silver medal in their first ever podium finish.
“Mali was my second assignment after Kampala. The games were tough, fast and very mentally challenging,” recalls Mutoro.
“The AfroBasket pre-qualifier was one of the best tournament I have played in since we got to play at home, in front of our fans.”
At the pre-qualifiers, the marauding Mutoro led the team’s scoring tally; 23 against Burundi, 23 against Rwanda and sunk game high 31 against Somalia.
In Bamako, Mutoro had shown he can still battle against the best on the continent as he troubled Morocco to register a staggering 32-points tally.
“Kenya went to Bamako as the underdogs and therefore people were not expecting us to do well. We used that to our advantage and went out there and put on a show to remember,” Mutoro notes.
“We beat teams and without them taking note, we were heading to the finals. Team spirit and cohesion was one aspect that helped us over the line.”
“We believed in ourselves that we were going to make headlines in that tournament and we were proved right. We put on a show to remember.”
Because of his stature, it is difficult to see Mutoro in a crowded ‘D’ but the dimunitive playmaker has a work ethic that is beyond question and is one of the busiest players on the court.
He plays tough defence, always ready to disrupt the tempo of the opponents play thus putting them out of rhythm. He is the motor that runs the Ulinzi Warriors engine.
Warriors team manager Stephen Bartilol, who did everything to get Mutoro’s signature, despite competition from other top teams, is baffled how fast his stars have risen within a shot time.
“We beat other clubs to get him because we had an employment opportunity,” Bartilol discloses. “After his military training he came into the team and made an immediate impact.”
“He really wanted to be part and parcel of Ulinzi and he showed it by working extremely hard to showcase his talents. We call him ‘true soldier’ and so far he lived up to expectations.” .
Mutoro made an impact when the team went to Brazaville, Congo for the Africa Military Games in 2018. He emerged the tournaments top scorer and was the darling of the crowd.
“In a event that had among some of Africa’s big basketball nations like Angola, Senegal, Algeria and Morocco, he was tops. That is also the year we named him team captain,” says Bartilol.
His performance and drive took him to the national team where Owuor has really transformed him into one of the country’s most lethal playmakers.
When connecting from the three-point range he is a dangerous player who has lately mastered an equally devastating floater that many teams find difficult to stop.
Mutoro was born in Nairobi’s Umoja Estate on May 2, 1992 to the late Lazarus and Rose Mutoro. He is the last born in a family of three that includes elder sister Joyce Mukasia and brother Kevin Sunguti.
He attended Tumaini Primary School in Umoja from 1998-2006 and proceeded to Kayole Secondary before transffering to Aquinas High School in 2008.
He started playing the game in 2005 under the influence of his brother and coach Sunguti, who handles the self-supporting Umoja club.
“He influenced me greatly on the court,” says Mutoro as he reflects on the guidance and direction that was charted by his sibling at the age of 13.
“Eric started playing basketball by engaging in pickup games. He would wait until we are done playing then he would take the ball play around on the court even after we were gone,” says Sunguti. It was at this time that he developed strong interest in basketball at the Umoja Two courts, nicknamed “Pacho”.
“After gaining confidence, he eventually started playing with the seniors even in tournaments and that is when he was spotted by Aquinas High School coach Carey ‘T9’ Oketch. Immediately, he transferred from Kayole Secondary — where there was no courts — to Aquinas, where he could access courts easily,” observes Sunguti.
“Eric stayed at Aquinas for two years but later transferred to Laiser Hill Academy, who gave him a full scholarship. He was there for four years.”
From 2009 Mutoro made four trips to the Kenya Secondary School Sports Association (KSSSA) national championships with Laiser Hill Academy.
He bagged the Most Valuable Players (MVP) honours in 2011 and 2012. The Rift Valley giants managed to win four crowns from 2009-2012 and claimed the East and Central Africa school’s title in 2011 and 2012.
He later moved to Uganda for six months. While there, he played for Nkumba University and Uganda Christian University (UCU).
Upon his return, Mutoro started playing for Umoja basketball team, then known as Lomboritz in the Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) Division One league.
“He had already got so much experience and had the talent and skills. He was at Umoja for only one season before heading to Ulinzi Warriors where he is currently playing,” explains Sunguti.
It is while at Ulinzi that his exploits were seen and he got selected to play for the national team.
Mutoro has won numerous awards from MVPs, scoring titles, most promising player and most defensive player.
Sunguti said that Mutoro’s first interest was in football where he played as a goalkeeper before he pushed him to play basketball by constantly taking him to tournaments and practice sessions.
“After training, I would remain behind with him and teach him the basic fundamentals like shooting, dribbling and layups,” reveals Sunguti. “I also fought hard to see him get some minutes during our pickup games. Everybody, not only me, who saw him play during those times knew he would be a future star.”
Mutoro, who joined the KDF in 2014 and posted to Engineers Brigade in Nanyuki is yet to find a tough opponent.
“I don’t believe I have any tough opponents since my mantra from day one has been, ‘Fear none but respect all’,” he says.
At Ulinzi Warriors his closest buddies are Alvin Nyangweso, Victor Bosire, Tiberius Menya, Collins Muliro, Antonio Bwire and Byron Mabonga.
For the Warriors to win the 2019 national championship, they faced off against Thunder in an epic duel played at packed Nyayo gymnasium. It was grit against style.
“The title was ours to lose and Thunder, being a very tough team, we had to give our best on the floor. We didn’t want to let it slip from our grasp,” Mutoro remembers.
The soldiers got off to a slippery start as Thunder came charging out of the blocks early. They took the edge in this opening Game One 75-73, despite a heroic 27-point tally from Mutoro.
In Game Two, Ulinzi were on a roll dismantling Thunder 123-106 in an encounter full of thrills, decided in double overtime. It was deadlocked 86-86 in normal time, was tied again 16-16 in first overtime before the soldiers prevailed 21-4 in the second overtime.
Mutoro dropped 24 points and led in minutes played as he logged 45.
They won Game Three 99-51 and again, Mutoro was in the driving seat of this duel, sinking team high of 19 points. He was at it again in a closely fought Game Four, which they won 67-63.
Despite their title defence being interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the soldiers have vowed to come back stronger once action resumes. In addition to the league title, they are also targeting the continents newest event — the Basketball Africa League (BAL).
Name: Eric Reuben Mutoro (Nickname: Jordo)
DoB: May 2 1992
Education: Tumaini Primary, Kayole Secondary, Aquinas High, Laiser Hill Academy.
Previous team: Umoja (Lomboritz)
Current team: Ulinzi Warriors
Position : Point guard
Height: 5' 11"
Profession: KDF Soldier