Ngor Barnaba

Joining Oilers a blessing in disguise for Barnaba

Oilers will give it their all at the BAL

FOR Ngor Barnaba turning out for City Oilers was a blessing in disguise as he had not seen some of his family in a long time.

The Sudan-born player was a toddler when his family fled the war-torn country. They would eventually settle in the United States, where the world of basketball would open for a young Ngor.

Khartoum-born Barnaba, who spoke to The Big Tip Off a week ago, would grow up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he learnt to play basketball. He says living close to the university in Louisiana also played an influential role in his picking up the game.

“I spent a part of my life in Louisiana, where I started playing basketball. We lived close to Louisiana State University, a big basketball institution. I was in the second or third grade when I started playing and taking it seriously,” said the 6ft9 (2.06m) small forward.

Ngor Barnaba
City Oilers’ Ngor Barnaba in action against Petro in their opening game. Pictures: Stone Tsuabah

His basketball career would see him play at the John Marshall High School and Missouri State-West Plains Junior College. Barnaba would play for two other colleges (Utah State University and Talladega College) before turning pro.

Before joining the Oilers, the 27-year-old played in Spain for the Spanish fourth-tier club Santfeliunc Basquet. He spoke fondly of his time in the Iberian Peninsula.

“I spent some time playing in Barcelona, Spain. It was my first pro experience. I had a great season, and I also got to meet some great people out there and learn about their culture, so it was a great time for me,” said Barnaba.

After his stint in Spain, Uganda came calling. Barnaba found himself in the blue and gold vest of City Oilers, where he wants to help the club make their mark in continental basketball, and he has had an opportunity to connect with his kin.

“The last time I visited the continent was in 1998. I still have some family here. There is an aunt and cousins of mine who stay here in Uganda. Now that I play in Uganda, I have gotten the chance to see them,” said Barnaba.

“It’s been amazing. Apart from the brand of basketball that they are playing, which has been big for me, they have also helped to connect me with my family here. I have not seen my aunt and cousins since I was a kid.”


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Barnaba joined the Oilers late last year for their successful Elite 16 Road To BAL campaign in Johannesburg, South Africa. He gave stand-out performances in wins over Mozambique’s Ferroviario da Beira in the group stages and the third-place playoff victory 71-62 against Burundi’s Urunani.

While Barnaba scooped the MVP honours (17 points, nine rebounds) for the game against Beira, his 12 points versus Urunani were also critical in ensuring that the Oilers would debut in this year’s Basketball Africa League (BAL).

“We came into those qualifiers as underdogs and wanted to prove ourselves to people. We played good games against great teams and finished four and one. Qualifying on that last day was amazing,” said Barnaba.

“The City Oilers have been trying to qualify for the BAL for the last three years. Now we felt a sense of relief after getting it done. There was just joy and happiness after what we had accomplished.

“When you are a part of something special like this, you don’t want to sit back. You want to contribute and give it your best. I thought I did a great job of doing everything my team needed. We are an unselfish team and a group of guys that want to see each other do well.”

Ngor Barnaba battles for position against Petro’s Joan Petro Atletico. Picture: The BTO

Since the Oilers’ successful Road To BAL qualifying campaign, Barnaba decided not to attach himself to any club. In the months leading to the BAL, he used the time to get fit until they returned to Uganda.

“After the qualifiers, me and my teammates, who played at that time, decided to focus on training the BAL. I did have a couple of offers, but I decided not to take them because I wanted to focus on this moment,” said Barnaba.

The versatile big returned to Uganda in early April for the Oilers’ preparation of the BAL Nile Conference in Cairo (26 April). While he and the import players have not played in the local National Basketball League, Barnaba feels they have done sufficient work to get ready.

“It’s going well for the Oilers in the league. Even if I am not playing, we practice hard every day. We are getting them in good shape for the league and they are doing the same for us for the BAL,” said Barnaba.

In their BAL debut, Oilers will face off against Petro de Luanda, Nile Conference hosts Al Ahly, Seydou Legacy Athletique Club, Ferroviario da Beira and Cape Town Tigers.

Barnaba felt there are no easy games in their Conference, and he expects every opposition to put their best forward.

“I think every team is well coached, and they have great players. Every game we played in South Africa during the Road To BAL was hard fought. I think it will be the same in Cairo. All the games are going to go down to the wire,” said Barnaba.

“Every team will bring their all, and we must do the same. On any given night, anything can happen. So, if we stay focused, we will be alright.”

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