Uganda's historic qualifications
SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - The four-decade wait was worth it for the Ugandans who became the first East African country to qualify both of their national teams (women and men) for the 2015 editions of FIBA Africa's flagship events.
While the men's team (the Silverbacks) will return to AfroBasket for the first time since 1970, their women counterpart (nicknamed the Gazelles) will be making their debut in the tournament that will take place in Cameroon.
The Ugandans' achievement is the result of a successful FIBA Africa Zone 2 qualifier event held last month in the country's capital city of Kampala, and could mark a new era in the country's basketball history.
In theory the men's team will travel to Tunisia - where AfroBasket 2015 will take place next summer - as underdogs.
However, by making it to Africa's big stage after dethroning local rivals Rwanda as well as direct competitors Kenya, Uganda should not be underestimated and I feel there might be some talent in the Silverbacks roster.
After all, Rwanda - who failed to achieve direct qualification for the second straight time in the last five editions of the tournament - is a good team that may be feeling the growing effect on its neighbours.
Although Rwanda played at AfroBasket 2013 in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire after receiving a wild card, local media has urged the country's national basketball federation to give homegrown players a chance.
The Ugandans finished second in the men's qualifier, behind Zone 5 champions Egypt, who had just returned from the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
By edging out Rwanda, Somalia and Kenya, the Ugandans took their game to a higher level in the region.
Now, it is time for them to show what East African nations have been unable to do over the past decades. The team must prove that this was not an accidental qualification, but rather an indication that basketball has a future in the country.
For the benefit of the game on the continent, Uganda's national basketball federation (FUBA) and its potential sponsor patterns have a full year to build a competitive team for Tunisia 2015, where 16 African national teams will be fighting for the only qualifying berth on offer for teams from the continent for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
How significant is this moment for Ugandan basketball?
FUBA chairman Ambrose Tashobya explained to the local media that "The impact of this will depend on how well we harness it. In life, everyone gets their chance and time but it depends on how you use it. This is the time for Ugandan basketball and we must make the most of it.
"What we've achieved is huge for local basketball. Our achievements broke the mental barriers off local basketball.
"We proved that we can beat Kenya and Rwanda, which many doubted. This success will also build aspirations among young players."
With basketball being a hot topic of conversation among Ugandans, the game will probably not be the same again there if they manage to put all the pieces together adequately and in time.
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