Despite that loss in the final game seven, UCU Canons should move with heads held high. It was one hell of a fight.
It’s not rocket science that after winning all those six titles, no body, beside their fans, wanted City Oilers to win another championship. Very obvious. And it was going to be automatic that all the neutrals will be supporting the opposing team that will face Oilers in the finals.
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But then, who did not love the artistry of young guard Fayed Baale? The way he danced and dazzled through Oilers’ defence. Who remained standing when David Deng (Dikong) strolled through in the air for those hammering dunks? Who never cheered when Isiaiah Mabeny Ateer shot lights out? Even the Oilers die hards shouted to their loudest voices, and the rest, appreciated in silence.
Big story – Fayed Baale, the story of a young canon
The previous season, the Canons pipped a playoff spot to finish sixth with a 11-9 record and were consequently swept by KIU Titans at the quarter finals. They started the 2019 season without Yahya Kalyesubula who joined the coaching staff, Derrick Isiko and Zeramula Twesigye among others. It promised to be a long season for the Mukono team given the fact that their only additions included notably Jerry Kayanga and Fayed Baale, all from the lower division.
At the beginning of the season, few, including the experts would have backed this UCU team to go beyond the quarters, and coach Nick repeatedly said that his main target is to see that he takes the team back to playoffs. And he will be excused for lowering the expectations given what was happening elsewhere after marquee recruitments by Betway Power, KIU Titans, JKL Dolphins and Warriors.
Canons’ chances of having a go at the league were laid bare after the side failed to establish authority at their own UCU Open tourney which was won by JKL Dolphins.
Captain Joas Maheta set the tone and gave everyone an hint about what they have in store when he scored from way downtown for the team’s first points in the league as they went on to beat Ndejje University Angles 70-65 on April 14, 2019. This was followed by wins against Our Savior and KCCA before shocking back to back wins against City Oilers and Betway Power to make it five wins from five games. That win against Oilers at YMCA showed a team that never gives up, and one that is ready to fight against everything thrown at them as they needed two overtimes to beat the defending champions.
Fast forward, they ended the regular season on top with a 19-3 record, tied with Oilers but Nick’s side edged the top spot on head to head difference. They eliminated KCCA Men and Betway Power in quarter and Semis respectively to extend their Cinderella story and set up a mouthwatering matchup with a then six time champions which was like a dream come true for a side that was even by their most ambitious fans, an over achievement.
This was a team that had already punched above weight. The youngest of all 12 clubs in terms of average age. They drew first blood when they took game one before Oilers retaliated to go 3-1 up. Was it over? No. Won game five and six in emphatic fashions to level the surface and force a decider. In game seven, they may not have lost in the most unlikeliest of ways, but many will believe that this year’s championship has been the hardest of seven for the Oilers.
Some will cite the first title when Oilers also needed game seven to beat Falcons 74-62 in 2013 or another game seven in 2015 to edge UCU. The other years have been all but walk in the park for Oilers; swept Power and KIU in 2014 and 2017 respectively while Power won once in 2016 and 2018 finals.
Thanks to coach Nicholas Natuhereza, UCU has without doubt moulded most of the local players in the league, with their headline talents including but not limited to Sudi Ulanga, Boniface Okello, Jonathan Egau, Ivan Lumanyika among others and this cuts across to the women category as well.
However, they have remained underdogs for all the years because of the University’s policy of not retaining the players after they graduate. But coach Nick has always found a way out of assembling a good squad year in year out, nevertheless. 2019 squad was not different.
The 2019 Heroic UCU Squad
Isaiah Mabeny Ateer, Fayed Baale, Titus Lual, David Deng, Fadhil Chuma, Joas Maheta, Jerry Kayanga, Caesar Adoke, Martin Tyrone, Peter Sifuma, Ibanda Linabanga, David Okello.
Coaching Staff – Nicholas Natuhereza, Emmanuel Kiguyi, Yahya Kalyesubula and Samuel David Lukaire