24 August, 2021
05 September
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AfroBasket 2021 - Team Profile: Kenya

NAIROBI (Kenya) - This will be the fourth trip to the FIBA AfroBasket championships for Kenya in nearly three decades. And it is the one they believe they can make a mark after placing fourth at home in Nairobi in 1993.

This is largely due to the fact that the talent is plenty and half the team members are now playing top level basketball overseas. This is unlike in the Nairobi tournament where the roster was filled with all locally-bred players.

For the first time since this event tipped off in Cairo, Egypt in 1962, a total of 16 teams will parade at the iconic Kigali Arena in Rwanda for the continent's biggest basketball festival that is slated to tip off August 24-September 5.

Team: Kenya
FIBA Ranking Men: 112th (World); 13th (Africa)
Last participation in the AfroBasket: 1993  (1 win, 5 defeats; 4th place)
Best result at AfroBasket: Fourth-Place finish in the nine-team 1993 edition of AfroBasket.
How they qualified for the 2021 AfroBasketThird place finish (2-4) after Group B Qualifiers in Yaounde and Kigali behind leaders Senegal and Angola.
World: Kenya have never featured at this level of competition.
Youth teams impact: Rather than at the Zone Five level, there is not much happenings for the youth in the Africa competitions. There is no vibrant youth programme and not much feature at the continental level. But things are now in perspective and a lot is now expected.
History/Qualification: The Morans went for their first AfroBasket tournament in Ivory Coast in 1985 where they never won a single game and were placed last in a 12-team event in Abidjan.

Their next trip came four year's later when they travelled to Angola and like in their debut appearance, not much changed. Again Kenya finished bottom and suffered their heaviest defeat, a 110-40 humiliation at the hands of the host who went on to dominate winning 11 titles from there.

Key Players: Tylor Ongwae and American-born Preston Bungei who ply their trade in Denmark for Bakken Bears and Randers Kimbria in the Danish League after both played college basketball in the USA. Desmond Owili turns out for Diamond Valley in the Australian League and USA-based Ronnie Gombe, one of the top rebounders in the Qualifiers is the other.

There is little doubt that Ongwae, "Mr Clutch" has been the key ingredient to a Kenyan surge that has shocked the continent. The ever reliable shooting guard who played in the EuroLeague remains key for Morans.

His two most memorable heroics that will live in the minds of the Kenyan fans for a long time, remains draining two late daggers – one against Angola in the 74-73 stunner in in Yaounde, Cameroon and another during the inaugural FIBA AfroCan show in Bamako, Mali in 2018 where Kenya went on to make their first-ever podium finish bagging a silver medal.

There have also been huge contributions from Valentine Nyakinda (Rwanda), Ariel Okal and  locally-bred stars as well like captain Griffin Ligare and his assistant Eric Mutoro.

Rising Star: Joel Awich who plays for Dax-Garmade, in the French Division 1 side sadly missed the Kigali Qualifiers but when he got his chance in Yaounde, he showed what a prospect he was. Standing at 2.00m (6ft 7in) forward has a great future ahead of him.

Head coach: Australian Elizabeth 'Liz' Mills has done wonders after joining the Kenyan technical bench in February 2021 and guiding the team to the continent's flagship tournament just a few weeks after being named to the helm. She replaced Cliff Owuor, who led the team in the first three games of the Qualifiers in November 2020.

Mills, who became the first female head coach to lead a team to the Africa championship, has worked in Africa for the past decade having started her coaching job in Zambia.

In an earlier interview after qualifying, she said that her immediate concerns remained lack of experience going into a championship of this magnitude.

"As a team, our biggest worry is inexperience," she said, "There are some issues that you can only sort out with experience." Observed Mills who also worked as a consultant  with clubs and national teams all around the continent.

Outlook:  There is never any doubt that Kenya will throw a strong team out there that can challenge for honors.

One thing is clear, Morans are headed for the show as underdogs and will be meeting tougher and experienced teams in Kigali like Nigeria, Tunisia and Senegal. All said and done, they are determined to send some shock waves around the continent

Kenya are drawn in Group C that also includes favourites D'Tigers of  Nigeria, Cote D'Ivoire and the rising Mali.