Basketball Gazelles shine at their return to Afro basketball
The Uganda national basketball team the Gazelles return to Afro basketball since their last appearance in 2015 started with hosting the Zone Five Qualifiers in Lugogo in February 14-19 this year.
For a better performance the Federation of Uganda Basketball Association (FUBA) unveiled Spanish Coach Alberto Antuna to replace Nicholas Natuhereza who is currently the latter’s assistant alongside Mavita Ali and Henry Malinga.
Besides Uganda’s professional players, the Gazelles were also joined by a new star in Jannon Otto, an American born.
Otto was inducted in the Gazelles team just one day before the tournament started. She did not train with teammates but still fitted in.
The 6’0 star had played four years of varsity basketball for Coach Kelly Hennessy in the Mojave River League.
She helped the Bulldogs become three-time champions and reached the CIF 2AA quarterfinals.
Otto scored 2,184 points throughout her high school career and was All-League all four years of high school among other achievements but found it hard to match the tough competition in the sport at home.
Another addition to the home based players was centre Maria Najjuma who featured for Javon Ladies before joining NBA Africa Academy in Senegal.
The six-day show – brought together five teams including Kenya, Egypt, Rwanda, South Sudan and hosts Uganda.
Meanwhile five other national teams had qualified automatically for the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket 2023 through the last edition of the competition in Yaounde Cameroon.
These included defending champions Nigeria, Mali the runners up, Cameroon – bronze medalists, Senegal who were the semifinalists as well as Rwanda by virtue of being the 2023 hosts.
Unfortunately, the Gazelles missed out on a chance to qualify for 2023 FIBA Women Afrobasket after falling to Egypt 74-65 in the Zone Five Championship final in Lugogo.
Gazelles receive wild card
Their sorrows were however short lived as they could later receive a wild card to the tournament.
Uganda had last participated in the Afro Basketball in 2015 in Cameroon.
The team had debuted in the competition in 1997 in Kenya but missed the 2017, 2019 and 2021 editions.
In Rwanda, the Gazelles enjoyed a successful FIBA Women’s Afrobasket, finishing an impressive seventh.
This was the best the Gazelles have ever attained at the continental showpiece.
Uganda was pooled in Group C alongside Mali and Senegal.
Tournament hosts Rwanda had been given an automatic qualification card and faced Angola in group A alongside Ivory Coast.
Group B had Cameroon, Mozambique, and Guinea while Nigeria, Egypt, and the DR Congo occupied Group D.
Uganda put up an impressive show beating 13-time champions Senegal 85-83 but had earlier lost 80-66 to Mali.
The Gazelles finished second with two points behind Mali who had four in group C.
They progressed to the knockout stage and defeated DR Congo 78-62 before progressing to the quarter final where they were edged by hosts Rwanda 66-61.
They could later register mixed results in the placement matches falling to Mozambique 88-62 in the fifth to eight placement fixture before outscoring Guinea for a seventh place finish.
The final saw Nigeria beat Senegal 84-74 to clinch the Afro basketball Championship.
The hosts finished in fourth place.
Gazelles’ Jannon Otto won two accolades as the 2023 FIBA Women’s Afrobasket came to an end.
She was awarded the tournament’s top-scorer and also in the best team of the tournament as the best small forward.
She tallied 128 points in Uganda’s six games, averaging 21.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
Otto believes this was all thanks to teammates who gave her the ball and also put her in the right positions as well as the coaches for putting their trust in her.
BY REGINA NALUJJA