Koranga and the Lionesses will have a competitive edge

Award winning season for Koranga

FELMAS Koranga does not mince her words when she says basketball was not her preferred choice of sport. To her, participating in basketball and other sporting codes were a form of escape and having fun.

“I tried different sports to figure where I fit in best. Note, this was for FUN! There was no intention from my side on building my future through sport,” said the 25-year-old. “I was the type of person who did not want to tire because of physical activity. I would cry a lot when instructed to put up shots and get fit.

“No. I did not want any of that. It was something to look forward to after class. Something refreshing.”

The influence of her older brother Ariel Okall Koranga, who plays for the Kenya Morans, also proved to be the turning point for Felmas.

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Felmas Koranga in action against Rwanda in AfroBasket Zone IV qualifiers. Pictures: FIBA

“I was introduced to basketball by my older brother Ariel. Well, he insisted that I take it up and I am here because of that,” said the power forward.

There’s a twist of irony in Koranga’s journey, as what turned out to be a leisure activity has seen her achieve excellence for her country and university team.

Koranga, the first Kenyan to play in the NCAA tournament has had a stellar season for Troy University in Alabama. Her performance for Troy was so good she won the Sun Belt Newcomer of the year and was named the All-Sun Belt Second team. She was part of the Trojans team that made the NCAA tournament, although they fell to Texas A&M in the first round.

Initially, Koranga struggled to adjust in her new environment but eventually knuckled down and was able to settle.

“I have to say it was not easy at first. Having to cope and gel in the system was not easy. It took me some time. I think in late January till March, I began to settle and be comfortable with the style of play,” said the former Tyler Junior College player.

Despite her achievements, Koranga was not overly excited about her success. To her, the awards are a sign that the behind the scenes work on her game have paid off and helped contribute to the team.

I know it’s a big platform and stuff, but I don’t get carried away with things like that. It’s just a title and a name. To me it’s just like any other game,” said Koranga, who took a similar tone on her individual achievements. “When you put in work it’s sometimes possible to predict that something big is going to happen. Also, the work I put in was not for individual accolades but for the success of the team.”

She also carried her form to Kenya’s Lionesses for the FIBA Zone V AfroBasket qualifiers. In the process, she also continued a proud family legacy of representing the East African nation in international competitions.

Her father, Elijah Koranga, who played for Kenya’s Harambee Stars in the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations, set the benchmark. Ariel matched the feat as he recently helped the Morans end a 27-year absence from international basketball by qualifying for this year’s men’s AfroBasket in Rwanda (24 August to 5 September).

Now, Felmas has written herself into Kenya’s sporting lore as she helped lead the Lionesses to qualify for the women’s competition (AfroBasket) in Cameroon (17-26 September).

Nakuru-born Felmas explains that the battle for bragging rights within the family is friendly. She points that it used to be her father who held the mantle for a long time. Now Ariel and herself are perched next to the Koranga patriarch in terms of sporting success.

“It is a little competition that we have going on. Dad used to say he is the only one who has competed on a higher platform. Ariel also used to say: ‘dad is not the only person that can speak in the house’. But now I’m the main person,” quipped Koranga.

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Koranga and the Lionesses made hard work of their qualifying route to Cameroon. Round robin losses to hosts Rwanda (77-44) and Egypt (107-106) and the one win over South Sudan (66-48) sandwiched in between last month saw the Kenyans having to dig deep.

What they found going into the semi-final and final was self-belief. So galvanised were the Lionesses, they swept aside Rwanda (79-52) and Egypt (99-83) to stamp their ticket to the women’s showpiece tournament.

“We did not expect it, but we had a measure of hope. Also, we wanted to prove a point. Some people did not believe in us,” said Koranga, who was named the power forward of the qualifying tournament.

Kenya will expect more award-winning performances from Koranga in the 12-team tournament. The Lionesses are Group A with the hosts Cameroon and Cape Verde.

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Felmas Koranga poses with her individual trophy.

Koranga acknowledges that competing in the tournament will present a different kind of challenge for the Lionesses.

“It’s going to be tough for all the teams. It’s a different level of competition. We have to practice like we are going to face people playing in the WNBA. That’s the attitude everybody should have. We are not overconfident, but we are coming there to compete,” said Koranga, who was non-committal about how far the team would go.

“Somebody asked me the same question. Honestly, I never have an answer to such a question. All I will say is we will compete. Hopefully, we will get somewhere.”

Looking at Kenya’s record at this competition, what stands out is that the Lionesses finished fifth in 1986, second in 1993 and fourth in 1997. Since then, there was nothing to write home about in the last three AfroBaskets they participated in.

While they are far from the upward ascent of those early years, Koranga intimated that the ball is rolling in trying to get the team back on track. She says there have been challenges in the rebuilding process.

“You won’t believe this, but before we went to Rwanda, we had been together for only ten days. You could tell from our first game that the chemistry was not there,” said Koranga. “There is an ongoing process of rebuilding the team. I feel we have talent. The right things need to be put in place so that the team well prepared.”

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