• The much-travelled forward said it has been quite a long time since Kenya participated in the continent’s top bonanza and that the time to once again brush shoulders with the best is now.
• “People love basketball in Kenya now than before because of what the players have been able to do in the last year or so. We have great personnel and team chemistry. We cannot underrate that,” he said.
Despite the challenges the world is going through occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, Algeria-based Ariel Okal returned to the country last month with just one mission, help Kenya Morans return to Fiba AfroBasket Championships for the first time since 1993.
Okal is one of the diaspora-based players coach Cliff Owuor is pegging his hopes on ahead of the qualifiers set for Kigali, Rwanda between November 25 and 29.
The much-travelled forward said it has been quite a long time since Kenya participated in the continent’s top bonanza and that the time to once again brush shoulders with the best is now.
“My focus on AfroBasket is simple. I want Kenya to achieve that elusive slot at Africa’s biggest basketball stage. It’s been 27 years,” he said.
“I am sacrificing all I have for this mission. I want to play my role in the team to the best of my ability, bringing in more energy and intensity.”
But for Kenya to realise this dream, the team must first get results against continental powerhouses Angola, Senegal and Mozambique in their four-nation Group ‘B’ qualifiers at the Kigali Arena.
These teams are ranked higher than Kenya in the Fiba rankings. The top three teams after the two qualifying — this month and February 2021 — will make the finals.
Okal is aware that the group is tight and Kigali will be one of the toughest hurdles they will have to encounter but with good preparations, there is hope the team will move through to the next phase.
“These three teams have been in this competition for long and so they have an edge over us in terms of experience and maybe structures,” he observed.
The “Doc”, as he is fondly referred to, also notes that Kenya have done extremely well going by their latest performances in Uganda, Mali and Nairobi.
He is convinced that many years have gone by but the country, under coach Owuor, have produced a crop of players who have rejuvenated the game.
“People love basketball in Kenya now than before because of what the players have been able to do in the last year or so. We have great personnel and team chemistry. We cannot underrate that,” he said.
He adds that the pre-qualifiers hosted in Nairobi in January and the Fiba AfroChan in Bamako, Mali, last year defined the team afresh. Kenya might not be an African giant but Okal believes they have what it takes to face the best if only they can manage to bring their best from the diaspora.
Besides Okal, Preston Bungei has arrived from Australia while Ronnie Gundo (USA), Tom Wamukota (Rwanda), Desmond Owili (Australia), Tyler Ongwae (Denmark) and Joel Awich (France) are expected to join the team.
“As much as the task is hard, we shouldn’t have excuses. We should be able to compete and play great basketball and make it to Kigali in 2021,” he said.
The 30-year-old continued: “When that finally happens, the game will definitely take a turn around and things will look greater for us.”
In the January pre-qualifiers at the Nyayo Stadium gymnasium, Okal averaged 7.6 points and 8.2 rebounds a game against Burundi, Eritrea, Tanzania and South Sudan and Somalia.
Okal, who plays for Union Sportive Setif, remains convinced that if the team prepares well for the five-day championships, they have a chance in the Kigali show.
Okal was born on March 20, 1990, to former footballer Elijah Koranga and Everlyne Koranga. He is a third born in a family of five boys and five girls. His other siblings are, firstborn Debra Anyango, Avida Koranga, Barlev Koranga, Emmanual Ochieng (Ulinzi Morans), Claudia Koranga, Carol Koranga (Storms and Zetech University), Mike Koranga (Menengai), Felmas Koranga and last born, point guard Clara Koranga (Menengai High).
Felmas, who is also a national team star, is in the United States of America where she turns out for Troy University. Okal says is one of the hardest workers he knows of.
“Growing up in a big family has its advantages and disadvantages. It has taught me patience and teamwork. Our family is deeply rooted in sports as all my siblings are players and we love anything sports,” he said. “Basketball was foreign in our house when I started playing, but now all my family members have embraced the sport.”
Okal attended Kambala Primary School in Molo, Nakuru County between 1994 and 2003 — the same school that his father attended.
He then moved to Nakuru where he joined Lanet Secondary School. “My high school was close to our home and the military barracks and this played a huge role in my basketball.”
Other than starting in the backyard, Okal also played in high school and spent a better half of his teenage playing basketball.
“I played a lot at the Kenya military academy courts in Lanet without a coach in my early years. I learnt to do things on my own. I researched a lot and I also watched a lot of clips on other players, especially the National Basketball Association (NBA).”
After high school, Okal joined Asumbi Teachers College for two years. While at there, he won the national basketball title twice and was a most valuable player (MVP) both at the regional and the national levels.
“The basketball culture there was amazing and it was dubbed ‘the home of basketball’ then. My inspiration comes from within but it was fueled by the death of my grandmother 15 years ago,” he said. “From that time, I vowed to always make her proud and I have dedicated my whole career to her.”
He went on: “My family had always been our support system. We have had our problems but we are always there for each other. My dad is a key motivational figure in my career, especially because he played sports and my mother has been a huge fan over the years. My siblings also pushed me to be at my best and the competition within the family is also a factor in how good we have become.”
Okal, who operates at both offensive and defensive ends with great energy, has played for many clubs both locally and abroad.
“The journey started at Nakuru Club 10 years ago, my mother club. In 2013, I joined Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) where my career flourished,” said Okal.
In 2015, he left KPA and moved across the border to join Falcons Club in Uganda. A few months later, he turned professional with a move to Ahli Sidab in Oman, where he played for two years before returning to KPA in 2017.
Okal then flew to the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles, where he joined PLS Hawks Seychelles in 2018. The same year he had a stint with Tanzanian side Savio and later that year left for Oman, again, to join Dhofar Club in Salalah City.
He played through to 2019 and then made one more return to KPA in 2020. Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, Okal had just joined Union Sportive Setif but did not have a chance to showcase what he’s got.
In his career, Okal has bagged numerous accolades including four Kecoso crowns with KPA where he was also named MVP in 2014. He also won two national league titles with the porters.
Name: Ariel Okal Koranga
DoB: March 20, 1990
Education: Kambala Primary School, Lanet Secondary School, Asumbi Teachers Training College
Clubs: KPA, Dhofar (Oman), PLS Hawks (Seychelles), Don Bosco Savio (Tanzania), Falcons BC (Uganda), Ahli Sidab (Oman), US Setif (Algeria)
Honours: Four Kecoso titles with KPA
Two KBF titles with KPA
MVP Kenya 2014
Best centre Oman Cup — 2015
RBA Tanzania champion — 2018
Best defender Tanzania — 2018
Silver AfroCan championship Bamako Mali 2019
Silver Oman Basketball League 2016/17
Bronze Oman League 2015/16