Mandy Juruni

Juruni to add firepower to the Oilers ahead of BAL

Continuity is key for the Oilers

FOR Ugandan club, City Oilers, qualifying for the Basketball Africa League (BAL) seemed like a feat they could only dream of rather than realise. That was until last year.

In Johannesburg, South Africa, at the Elite 16 Road to BAL qualifiers (a round where they have twice fallen short), the Oilers finally put their past qualifying disappointments aside and lived up to their potential by making it to the third edition of one of Africa’s premier basketball competitions this year.

City Oilers
Oilers players Falando Cortez Jones and Ochechi Ogbonna celebrate qualifying for the BAL. Pictures: The BTO

While there is a lot to cheer about on the success of the nine-time Ugandan National Basketball League champions, the team’s long-serving coach Mandy Juruni reflected on his team’s previous qualifying campaigns, which ended in disappointment, and he felt that had built up to this achievement.

“This has been a learning curve for us. In our first attempt (in 2019) in Rwanda, we got knocked out in the semi-finals by the host club, the Patriots. We also lost the third-place qualifying game against Ferroviario de Maputo,” said the decorated Juruni earlier in the year. “The second time (in 2021), we wanted to qualify, but we could not travel to South Africa due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“These were learning experiences for us as a group, and we cannot trade them away. We can only get better, and now when we head to the BAL, we want to go there and compete and not just make the numbers. We want to be a competitive unit.”

Preparations for the BAL (taking place in Dakar 11-21 March, Cairo 26 April-6 May and Kigali 21-27 May) have already begun for the Oilers, who beat Burundi’s Urunani in a third-place play-off game in Johannesburg to qualify for this year’s tournament.

“We have already started with our preparations. Right now, we are in the phase of organising our roster together. We are also putting plans in place to get us ready for the tournament,” said one of  Uganda’s most successful club coaches.

Germaine Roebuck Jr
Oilers will look to retain the services of Germaine Roebuck Jr ahead of the BAL.

In terms of the playing personnel, 40-year-old Juruni hopes to retain the services of American players Germain Roebuck Jr and Falando Cortez Jones. Roebuck Jr, who started the journey with the Oilers in preliminary qualifiers in Tanzania last year, and Cortez Jones were key points contributors to the Ugandan club’s cause.

Guard Roebuck Jr’s 21 points and 11 rebounds against Urunani in the third-place qualifier ensured that the Ugandan club qualified for their maiden BAL tournament. Guard/forward Cortez Jones had a memorable 40-point game in a semi-final loss to the Cape Town Tigers.

“They (Roebuck Jr and Cortez Jones) are a big part of our team and process. We are happy with what they did for us in the first and second rounds of the Road to BAL,” said Juruni. “What will be important for our team is to maintain the continuity put in place in the last round. We have built a team where players know each other, the system and the coach. So, we don’t want to change everything because we are going to the BAL.

“I think having continuity, improving as a team and certain positions is key for us.”

Apart from retaining the core of his squad and the two American star players, Juruni has also identified some positions that may need attention ahead of the BAL competition.

“We want to improve the team and have a roster that can compete at that level. We know we lacked a little bit of size at the forward position. At the five as well, we may need to add another big man,” said Juruni. “We need to improve on our scoring as well. Two players carried the load in South Africa, and at some point three. We need to be a team that has scoring options. We should not find ourselves in a situation where our top players play forty minutes of basketball.

“Like what Jones went through for us to compete against Cape Town. We need to improve our bench, and make sure there is enough firepower for us to compete at that level.”

With the BAL tournament just around the corner, the Oilers have also planned for the team to get much-needed match fitness.

“We plan to have a camp in Egypt. There are some friendly games in the pipeline. We are also trying to organise a regional tournament to get our locally-based players ready. And at the moment they are doing individual work, but next month we will come together for our camp,” concluded Juruni.

Juruni and the Oilers seem to have covered their bases ahead of Africa’s blue-ribbon club competition. As they continue their preparation for the BAL they will remind themselves what it took to get to this stage. When first jump ball of the league launches the Oilers will know they have finally arrived.

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