Last year was eventful for Uganda’s national team players who also feature for local side City Oilers.
Jimmy Enabu, Ben Komakech, Jonah Otim, Robinson Opong Odoch, James Okello, Stephen Omony, Stanley Ocitti and Adarius Pegues played with the Silverbacks in September at FIBA AfroBasket before club duties in the Champions Cup in December.
And for Opong, who made his national team debut during the Afrobasket in Senegal, the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifiers present another opportunity for him to shine in national colours.
Uganda’s Silverbacks are in Group B with hosts Mali, 2015 African champions Nigeria and arch-rivals Rwanda in the first round of qualifiers.
The 28-year-old shooting guard believes Uganda can put up a commendable performance when they open their qualifying campaign in Bamako from February 23-25.
“I think we are in a favourable group where we can be successful and finish in the top three. I expect the games to be very intense, especially against Mali,” Opong told FIBA.
Ugandan basketball has been on the rise since the country’s debut at Afrobasket in 2015 and the Silverbacks nearly shocked African powerhouse Angola at last year’s event in Dakar.
Five-time Ugandan champions and two-time Zone V winners City Oilers have grown along and came fifth at the 2017 FIBA Africa Champions Cup in only their second appearance.
Opong says the tournament gave him an opportunity to know his national teammates better ahead of of the World Cup qualifiers.
At the FIBA Africa Champions Cup, I had the chance to play with and get to know some of my Silverbacks teammates better.
We had a good run in the tournament and I’m looking forward to using that momentum in the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.
The guard is well aware of the pressure that comes with playing away from home but insists the Silverbacks will be ready for the task.
I expect the fans in Bamako to be loud and to do their job of creating a hostile environment for the visiting teams.
It will be up to us to stay focused and composed when we face Mali. I also expect the fans to cheer for both teams whenever Mali is not playing.
Uganda begin their qualifiers journey against Nigeria on February 23, before taking on Group B hosts Mali the next day and rounding out their first leg play against rivals Rwanda on February 25.