John Balwigaire Credit: Franklin Kaweru

It’s never too early to start thinking about which teams might have a shot at challenging City Oilers for the National Basketball League title. Before the season starts, prognostications run rampant, thanks majorly to offseason business.

There was a lot of player movement with JKL Dolphins, KIU Titans, Namuwongo Blazers and Power making much of the noise.

And all that player movement led to takes galore. Suddenly, there have been legitimate arguments that JKL Dolphins and Namuwongo Blazers have a shot at challenging City Oilers for the title if the league gets the green light when the lockdown due to COVID-19 is lifted by the government.

The argument for Namuwongo Blazers, in my opinion, is farfetched and they should not be in the conversation of contenders. Given the composition of the league, Blazers will definitely make the postseason but it will take everything for the side to get to the second round of the playoffs and that is, with all due respect, as far as they can go.

However, the argument for JKL Dolphins seems to hold a lot of water and it’s worth taking a look to assess whether the team that has been assembled makes them a legitimate contender to challenge City Oilers.

Signings

Since gaining promotion to the National Basketball League, JKL Dolphins have not shied away from shaking up their roster every other offseason.

For those who have been closely following the side since their first season in the topflight in 2017 and had a chance to chat up the club Technical Director, Fredrick Owora, expected another offseason of activity.

And to his credit, Freedom, as he is known in the basketball circles, did not disappoint as he signed up to nine players. That’s half the number of players a team can register for a season and three quarters for a gameday. Is that crazy? Hell Yeah! But it’s that crazy equated to ambition.

John Balwigaire and assistant coach Henry Malinga Credit: Franklin Kaweru

John Balwigaire was the first signing made and the combo guard needs no introduction as he announced himself to Ugandans in 2014 during the Afrobasket Qualifiers at Lugogo Indoor Stadium. Having grown and played in a much better basketball culture, his understanding of the game will go a long in lifting the standards of JKL.

Innocent Ochera was picked up from Ndejje University Angels. Ochera has gotten better every other season since taking over from Jonah Otim at Ndejje and has grown into a cunny and athletic shooting guard who can not only drive to the basket but create his own shot off the dribble with improved 3-point shooting.

Innocent Ochera (L) is a good one-on-one and team defender Credit: Franklin Kaweru

The one-two offensive punch of Balwigaire and Ochera looks very potent. Complement that with an on-track Joseph Wacha as the third option coupled with the creativity and all-round play of skipper Brian Namake and you have the makings of a good back court.

Joseph Wacha Credit: Franklin Kaweru

JKL also picked up Daniel Jjuko who was let go by City Oilers. With seven winners’ medals, Jjuko knows what it takes to be a champion in this league. Jjuko and vet Jude Ochen are among the best backcourt gap-fillers on both ends of the floor in the division.

Daniel Jjuko and Oscar Muge Credit: Franklin Kaweru

Libe Makala returned ‘home’ after a season with Power. Libe remains one the league’s premier defenders who are not afraid to get dirty and can contribute, sometimes abundantly, on the other end.

Rudy Kabengele is another acquisition that was made by JKL to bolster their frontcourt that has Ivan Lumanyika as the only surviving member from last season. Kabengele was signed from Congolese side ASB New Generation Basketball Club and the power forward had his first outing with the team during the UCU Invitational Tournament. Kabengele’s first impression is that of nearly every Congolese player – effort. He has got a smooth jump shot and is not afraid to pull the trigger from beyond the arc which makes him a threat inside out.

Rudy Kabengele posts up during a game against KCCA Panthers at Uganda Christian University in Mukono Credit: Franklin Kaweru

Philip Ameny has turned out for four National Basketball League clubs – UCU Canons, Falcons, Power and Warriors. This year, he will play for a fifth club – JKL Dolphins. If you are to put the last three or so seasons in perspective, JKL have taken a gamble on the big man but gamble worthy taking based on what Ameny can be. When in his zone, Ameny can be as competitive and dominant as you would want from a big man on any given night.

Philip Ameny Credit: FUBA

Oscar Muge has quietly established himself as one of the best up-and-coming centers in the league. Muge shone under Brian Wathum at KIU Titans especially in 2017 and 2018 but was troubled by a knee injury last term. Once he was dropped by rebuilding Titans early this year, JKL Dolphins picked him up. He may be a little frail for a big man but he has a reliable midrange jump shot and is above average rebounder of the ball.

Derrick Isiko joined Dolphins from UCU Canons and is expected to contribute off the bench. Christian Milambu Kakonda is the other signing the Dolphins made as they look to hit the ceiling. The Congolese center that has been turning out for Philippines side Tumoning Typhoons Basketball Club was not in the country at the time of the lockdown.

The Old Guard

JKL Dolphins maintained just three key players from last season – Brian Namake, Joseph Wacha and Ivan Lumanyika who return to the side towards the playoffs after a long layoff.

Namake has played in the league for a long time and has a very high game intelligence that has been demonstrated throughout his time at JKL and stretches from his time at UCU Canons.

Ivan Lumanyika Credit: Tsaubah Stone

Landry Ndikumana may be the best big man in the league, but Ivan Lumanyika is the most prototypical center. His job is to protect the basket and pick rebounds and he does it with a cold efficiency whenever he is locked-in. His contribution on the offensive end makes Lumanyika befitting the secondary scoring option on the team.

JKL Dolphins’ entire existence as a contender is made possible by all-round abilities of the roster and not just the freakish athleticism and growing skill of some of the players on the roster.

The Dolphins seem to have all the ingredients there in. After it has some time to simmer, expect this to be one of the best three teams this season.

Technical Team: Assistant coach Henry Malinga and Head coach George Mayienga Credit: Franklin Kaweru

JKL Dolphins Roster

Backcourt: JohnBalwigaire, Daniel Jjuko, Innocent Ochera, Joseph Wacha, Brian Namake

Frontcourt: Libe Makala, Derrick Isiko, Oscar Amuge, Rudy Kabengele, Christian Kakonda, Philip Amenyi, Ivan Lumayika

Head coach: George Mayienga

Assistants: Henry Malinga, Kaddy Kabantu

Franklin Kaweru

Franklin Kaweru is the Editor in Chief of Kawowo Sports. He is an ardent basketball enthusiast.

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