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Tonny Drilleba: An Impressive Career, But With Twists And Turns

Tonny Drilleba. Courtesy photo

As a young boy, he was chased off the court because he was “not good enough.” Later, he turned down a scholarship at UCU, ignored a call to play for Betway Power and opted to play with his brothers at ABaCoDe.

Since then, he has managed to pass through thin and thick – including two career-threatening injuries – to taste success. And now, not even the sky is the limit.

Here is the story of City Oilers and Silverbacks guard cum forward Tonny Drilleba.

Growing up, Drilleba was that very stubborn child who got into trouble a lot of time. “But I was a good scholar, always ending up in top two positions in class my entire primary,” brags Drilleba who attended Revival Junior School and Mengo SS.

He traces his first basketball experience as a Primary five boy in 2003 who used to escort his brother and watch him play. He would on some occasions pick up a ball and dribble around, take some shorts as well.

“I never played too much though because my Primary School had no basketball facilities. I played a lot more of soccer, all the way to my senior 2. In my Senior one, we used to get chased off the court by the older students because most of us weren’t that good.

“I got serious about the game in my Senior two. I played every day. I worked out a lot with my then coach Bajjunga Ronald, and kept growing my game. He taught me so much.”

During his senior four (2009), he played in the nationals but Mengo was ousted at the round of 16. They were eliminated at quarterfinals the following year.

He remembers: “That was the toughest loss at that time for me. So I went back and worked extra hard because I felt I needed to win something for the school that had nurtured my basketball.”

In 2011, he was the MVP as Mengo won the championship.

Tonny Drilleba goes for a jumper. FUBA Photo

After his senior six, he was a hot cake thanks to the exploits that won him an MVP accolade.

The superstar got several calls from clubs like Power, scholarship offers from UCU and Ndejje University but turned them down as he opted to play with his highschool friends who had formed a new team – ABaCoDe.

Among the friends at ABaCoDe include John Mark Mukasa, James Lule, Victor Ddamulira, John Kiggundu, Timothy Kakuba and David Bahige.

“I do not regret,” Drilleba on decision to turn down offers and choosing to play for ABaCoDe. “Those are some of my most enjoyable years of playing the game. There was so much passion and commitment from each one of them. They made the years worthwhile.”

“I also learned so much during my time with ABaCoDe, I had a lot of time on the floor and this helped me really develop as a player, and prepared me for higher competition.”

He was at AbaCoDe for three years when City Oilers came calling, which he says that it was a tough decision to leave behind his friends he had played with since high school.

The lucrative move to Oilers was started by Ben Komakech who he had played for during FNL. “He suggested that it was time for me to move on to a bigger challenge; that I had developed well enough to play in the big league. And since he was one of the players I respected and admired the most, I took his word to heart, and the possibility was planted in my mind,” Drilleba recalls.

Later that year, during ABaCoDe’s quarterfinals playoffs game two against UCU JV at lugogo, Oilers who were supposed to play after at the same venue, had a chance to see Drilleba play.

After the game, Silver Rugambwa, Oilers manager then, approached Drilleba and made the intentions known.

“It was still a very difficult decision for me to make because I really wanted to stay with my friends, but in the end I decided to move.”

Drilleba says that the first year (2015) was tough, playing for a team that was star-studded.

He reveals:

“Finding playing time was no easy feat. Fortunately, everyone was so welcoming, so helpful. The players helped advise and challenge me to become better.

“Then injuries also kept me sidelined most of the time. I fractured a bone in my hand. I also fell face-first and split my lip and broke several teeth.”

Drilleba and Oilers managed to squeeze past UCU Canons in game seven to win the league championship in 2015, the same year they played the Zone V club championships in Kigali, losing to Gezira in that dramatic final.

“The following years were also tough, but I put in a lot of work and kept slowly working my way into the team,” he adds.

He idolises teammate Komakech and says that “his life and demeanor on and off the court have always been very impressive.” Internationally, he is inspired by Real Madrid’s Sergio Llul who “has the greatest game mentality I have ever seen.”

L-R: Francis Azolibe, Jimmy Enabu, James Okello, Tonny Drilleba and Ivan Muhwezi.

On what has kept him moving since day one, he explains: “I am naturally competitive. So I always have the desire to win and that pushes me every time to stay hungry. Our managers at City Oil are also great dreamers. They always set out to achieve the highest possible goal, and they push us all at the club to give our best.

“I would like to give a mention of a very special friend of mine, Omayam Terisha, who has always prayed for me before every game even when I couldn’t pray for myself. I believe her prayers have always been key.”

He credits his first coach Bajjunga Ronald who taught him the basics of the game, Mutyaba Lawrence who at times gave him sneakers and allowed him to use the courts. Then the two managers at City Oilers Hajji Santur Mohammed and Hassan Ahmed who have believed him and all the players from ABaCoDe and Oilers.

“Also, most important is my mother. No one encouraged me more than she ever did. She was always my number one fan, win or lose. Of course all this came together because Of God. Nothing could have happened for me without His blessing.”

Drilleba says that he would have been a tourist guide if it was not for basketball. “I am very fluent with German, I’ve worked with German tourists before. And I enjoyed doing it.”

Drilleba comments that his worst moment was when I lost my mom in 2018 who was one of his greatest pillars in his basketball world. His best moment was winning the championship that same year. “It was bitter sweet. I played to win for her.”

He still has more dreams to chase that include but not limited to winning more championships, Basketball Africa League, winning at the national team level and inspiring young generation.

Tonny Drilleba’s Achievements

  • 2011 high school nationals MVP
  • 2016 world university 3×3 slam dunk champion
  • 2015 zone V runner up medal
  • 2016-2017 zone V gold medal
  • 2015-2019 NBL championships
Brian Kawalya

Brian Kawalya

Chief Sports Writer
Brian Kawalya is an Award winning Journalist, Director and Chief Sports Writer of The-SportsNation, covering top events and breaking some of the biggest stories.
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