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Johnson returns to Uganda fold ahead of World Cup Qualifiers
KAMPALA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers) - Ugandan point guard Joshua Johnson has been included in the final 12-man roster that will make the ''Silverbacks" debut at the World Cup Qualifiers stage this weekend in the Malian capital of Bamako.
Ipswich Town's Johnson, who will be making his first appearance for the Uganda for the first time since the FIBA AfroBasket 2015, is joined by forward Brandon Sebirumbi who plies his trade for Aomori Wats in Japan and Sweden-based shooting guard Samuel Kakooza.
"Every time you are called on to serve your country, you have to answer that call. I am honored to be part of the team," Johnson told FIBA.basketball in an exclusive interview.
"WE HAVE A CHANCE TO SNEAK IN A COUPLE OF WINS. THESE ARE WORLD CLASS TEAMS THAT HAVE BEEN DOING THIS FOR A LONG TIME BUT ONE THING I CAN SAY IS THAT, WE HAVE TO RESPECT OUR OPPONENTS BUT WE SHOULD NOT FEAR THEM" - Johnson
"I am proud of how far we have come as Uganda. There is a very big improvement. I am actually very amused. The locally based players have improved so much.
"As a team I think that we have to go to Mali knowing that we deserve to be here and that we did not come here by wild card or as a replacement but we got here because we deserve to."
Uganda open their campaign against 2015 African champions Nigeria on February 23 before taking on hosts Mali and finally arch-rivals Rwanda.
And Johnson insists the East-African have what it takes to make some noise.
"We have a chance to sneak in a couple of wins," said the 25-year-old. "These are world class teams that have been doing this for a long time but one thing I can say is that, we have to respect our opponents but we should not fear them."
Sebirumbi, who will join the team along with experienced forward Stanley Ocitti from the USA on Wednesday in Bamako, is excited about his return to the national side.
"It is always something special to come back to represent Uganda. There is a vision that I support. I do not take it for granted. I just want to take it step by step. I do not want to get lost in the bigger picture," he explained. "Progress is one step at a time. One play at a time. That is how you build a great organization. Everything matters."
Sebirumbi averaged 8.6 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds at FIBA AfroBasket 2015
Meanwhile, upcoming forward Stanley Mugerwa will be making his debut appearance for Uganda and head coach Mandi Juruni believes the youngster is ready for the big stage.
Forward Adarius Pegues has been left out of the side for the first leg of the World Cup Qualifiers in Group D, and will be replaced by Sebirumbi whose dominance in the paint is something the Silverbacks will look to benefit from.
Veteran shooting guard Stephen Omony will once again captain Uganda at the big stage.
Omony along with the experienced Stanley Ocitti and shooting guard Robinson Odoch Opong are expected to lead Uganda’s charge in the Malian capital of Bamako next week-end.