City Oilers

Miller’s refined skills to help City Boys navigate Nile Conference

THE last time we caught up with Dane Miller Jr, he and the City Oilers were fresh off a successful Road To BAL Elite 16 campaign. They finished second behind the Cape Town Tigers to clinch a ticket to Season 4 of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) behind the moniker the “City Boys.”

After spending time in Indonesia with Prawira Bandung in the Indonesian Basketball League, the forward is back with the Ugandan club. The Oilers will open their Basketball Africa League Nile Conference on Friday (tonight) at 7 pm CAT at the Hassan Mostafa Indoor Sports Complex in Cairo, Egypt.

In an interview with The Big Tip Off, Miller reflected on his time with the Guinean club SLAC and how his time in Indonesia prepared him to take on a leadership role at the Oilers. Miller also spoke about his growth and playing alongside projected 2025 Lottery Pick and Duke commit, Khaman Maluach.

Dane Miller Jr at BAL Season 2
Dane Miller felt like he was in a comfort zone playing for Guinea’s SLAC. Pictures: FIBA Africa

In his first two seasons, he improved from 14.7 points per game, 5.8 assists and 1.5 steals to 21.2 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.4 steals, an effort which earned him the BAL All-First Team Honours. Coming into this season, Miller feels ready to take things to the next level.

“I feel much more comfortable now. In my first BAL season with SLAC, we had a great team. I made the second team by just waking up off the couch. Honestly, I wasn’t playing anywhere before that. Last year, I played somewhere, and my team allowed me to play. But this year, coming off of playing in Indonesia, my body looks different even when comparing it to the [Road to BAL] qualifiers,” Miller explains.

The 34-year-old spent the window between The Elite 16 and Season 4 playing for Prawira Bandung in the Indonesian Basketball League, an experience which Miller, already a prolific scorer, credits for sharpening his defensive skills.

“Defensively, I’m in great shape due to the role that I played in Indonesia. I was focused and locked in, and I knew that I’d be asked to guard the other team’s best player. I’m more confident now, having played in this league for two years. I feel that I’ve done enough to earn the other team’s respect when I step on the court, which makes me even more confident,” said the American-born player.

The Oilers team has made some changes to their coaching staff with the departure of Mandy Juruni. They have welcomed a new coach, Karim Nesba, a former Moroccan national team player. In addition to the coaching appointment, new players such as Randy Culpepper Sr, Muhammed Bashir Ahmed, and Patrick Ronald Rembert have been acquired. The Oilers have also retained most of the local core from the Road To BAL. After a week of training camp in Cairo, Miller is happy with how the new additions have adjusted.

“We have had good preparation for our upcoming games. Some days we had two practices, while other days we had one. During this time, we have been bonding as a team. We are working hard on different strategies and techniques that we are learning on the fly,” says Miller. “Our coach is putting us in positions that push us out of our comfort zones, but overall, it has been a positive and valuable experience. We feel confident going into our upcoming games.”

The Oilers also welcomed Khaman Maluach, the projected 2025 NBA Lottery pick and Duke commit, who will be an asset to the team.

“Having him on the team is a big advantage. He has a bigger body and can do many things. The last time I saw him, I noticed that he was a great rim protector. Despite being young, he is very competitive and eager to learn. These are the reasons why he is considered an NBA lottery pick,” says Miller.

“I believe we will work well together because passing is one of my strengths. I can teach him different ways to set screens and roll and help him gain confidence on the court. We are counting on him to enjoy the game, be competitive, and contribute to our team. We already have a great team, and he will only add to it.”

The Oilers will have a true test of their strength and preparation tonight (Friday) when they take on the defending champions, Al Ahly Egypt, who are favourites coming into the match. But this task has in no way dulled the Oilers’ confidence.

“The underdog approach I guess is what is sparking some motivation for ourselves, I could say. We have a really good team. I know that everyone is talking about Al Ahly and the other teams and that is okay,” says Miller.

“Bangui Sporting Club is also gonna be tough but it’s okay for those teams to be the favourite – one team is a returning champion and the other team is historically good but it’s still basketball. You still have to go out there and play and figure out who can do what. We’ll see, anything can happen but they put their shoes on the same way we put our shoes on.”

Dane Miller in action at the Road To BAL
Dane Miller says he has refined his skills ahead of the Nile Conference.

As for Miller, he has his eyes set on improving the small details he felt he neglected in last season’s BAL.

“One of the biggest disappointments for me about last year was not making first team all defence. I felt like I deserved that with the stats I had especially on the defensive end. I had the chance to win the scoring title and I lost that on my own. It was the little things like missing free throws,” says Miller.

With the Nile Conference set to start tonight, Miller spoke confidently about the prospects of the Oilers. He feels they will be among the two teams to gain automatic qualification to the playoffs in Kigali, Rwanda.

“When we get to Rwanda I feel like I can lead this team with what we have to a championship and lead a team of rebounders. I just want to be the best leader I can be.”

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Can City Oilers get past conference play in BAL Season 4?

THE City Oilers have been a dominant team in their national league. As they gear up for Season 4 of the Basketball Africa League (BAL), will they be competitive on the continental stage? 

The Big Tip Off previews the Oilers ahead of the BAL.

Team: City Oilers

Country: Uganda

History: The club was founded in 2011 by a group of friends and has subsequently won nine Ugandan National Basketball League (NBL) titles, the most by any club in the East African country. The Oilers have participated in the FIBA Africa Clubs Championship once, under the name “Warriors” and secured 9th position in that tournament. The City Oilers engaged in The Road to BAL twice (2019 and 2022) where they failed to qualify. However, they qualified in the 2023 Road to BAL.

In their debut appearance (2019), the Ugandan side only managed to win one game out of the five. They finished sixth in the Nile Conference and did not progress beyond the group stages.

Route To BAL: The City Oilers showed improvement in their second qualification for the BAL at the end of November in Johannesburg, South Africa. They finished second in the Elite 16, Division East, behind the Cape Town Tigers.

City Oilers coach Andrew Tendo
Andrew Tendo has taken on the task of leading the City Oilers in BAL Season 4. Pictures: FIBA Africa and The BTO

Coach: Andrew Tendo was recently been appointed the new head coach for the Oilers. Tendo previously was an assistant to the former coach, Mandy Juruni, who joined Rwandan side Kepler University. Tendo has been a part of the team for quite some time and contributed to three of the nine NBL titles won by the Oilers. His familiarity with the team should make his transition smooth. The first-year head coach will have his work cut out for him ahead of the BAL. However, he has a chance to find his feet as the NBL season tipped off last month.

Star Player: Parish Petty emerged as the star player for the Oilers during their Road to BAL campaign. Petty was impactful with the distribution and sharing of the ball, an issue the Oilers have struggled with in the past and has cost them dearly.

The guard’s unselfish style of play complements the team’s core. He averaged 18 points, 5.4 rebounds per game, 3.4 steals per game, and three assists per game. Petty led all guards in The Road to BAL in the efficiency category, with a rating of 19.3 per game, which speaks volumes of how valuable of an asset he is for the Oilers.

Can City Oilers get past conference play in BAL Season 4? Read More »

Tendo ready to write new page in Oilers history

ANDREW Tendo says his recent appointment as the head coach of City Oilers elicited in him two feelings: “anxiety” and “excitement”. The dual emotions engulfing him are understandable as leading the storied Ugandan club will demand that he is also successful during his tenure.

His excitement emanates from his desire to lead a team, which has now become a reality. His anxiety, on the other hand, stems from taking over the position vacated by the accomplished coach Mandy Juruni, who joined Rwanda’s Kepler University last year.

Juruni won nine titles as head coach of the Oilers, and Tendo, as an assistant, was part of three of those championship wins. Having played a part in building the Oilers’ culture of success and now being the man in the hot seat, his state of mind is warranted.

“I have mixed feelings. Like any human being, you are happy to get this opportunity (to coach the Oilers). But you are anxious too because you want to do well,” said Tendo, who has led Uganda’s senior men’s team. “That is why I say mixed feelings… I am happy and anxious regarding the appointment.”

Andrew Tendo takes over coaching reins at City Oilers
All eyes will be on Andrew Tendo as he takes over from Mandy Juruni. Pictures: The BTO

Tendo expanded on his feeling of anxiety. He knows Juruni left an indelible mark at the Oilers and for him (Tendo), the only foot to get off on, is the right one.

“I was assistant to coach Mandy, who has now moved on to another club. He won nine championships in a row, and that will not be easy to emulate. But you also don’t want to be the coach who starts with a record that is on the negative side. You want to do just as well as your predecessor,” said Tendo.

“The excitement comes from the fact that I have always wanted to be in charge of a team. I have been a part of the club’s history from the start. I desired to be a coach of the City Oilers, but I have had to wait my turn. Finally, here I am. It’s a dream come true.”

Before turning to matters in the court, Tendo, also a lawyer by profession, explained that he is a detail-orientated coach. When asked how being a lawyer has helped with his coaching, he pointed to the aspect of details.

“There are some good things I took from my profession, like planning. I like to plan things as I do not like surprises. I like to picture a lot of scenarios and to figure out how to deal with them accordingly,” said Tendo.

With the commencement of the Uganda National Basketball League (NBL) around the corner (January 25) and the Basketball Africa League (BAL) tipping off in March, Tendo knows he has to get the ball rolling.

He says from a preparation perspective, not much has changed – the only difference is that a new coach will be giving instructions.

“The beauty of how things are run in our club is my involvement (as an assistant) in all the processes regarding the league and the BAL. I gave my input and suggestions for the head coach to consider. Now, I am one of the guys that makes the decisions and the buck stops with me,” said Tendo, who won five league titles as a player for the Falcons Basketball Club. “For the preparations of the local league and BAL, we will do what has worked for us. There will not be many changes. We will be okay during this transition.”

Concerning playing personnel, Tendo says they will introduce more youth ahead of the NBL competition. He will also continue with senior players like forward and team captain James Okello, point guard Fayed Baale and shooting guard Tonny Drileba who are part of the Oilers’ core.

“James Okello is one of the pillars of the team. He has been with us for ninety per cent of the Oilers’ existence. He is one of our senior players. We will need him to help us transition the new players,” said Tendo. “Tonny and Fayed are part of the younger generation. They have now grown to become contributing players. So their services will be vital to our local league and BAL campaign.

Andrew Tendo and Mandy Juruni
Andrew Tendo converses with Mandy Juruni during the Road To BAL Elite 16 Division East.

For the BAL competition, Tendo says they are most likely to retain the international players who did battle for the Oilers at the Road To BAL qualifiers in South Africa last year.

“For the BAL, we will retain the majority of the guys. The team management was at the BAL Combine (in Morocco 5 – 7 January), so we will discuss if they identified players that we can add to the team,” said Tendo.

Finally, Tendo hopes to continue the club’s track record of winning. He implored on the players to be up to that task.

“I appreciate the support I have gotten so far (from management and players). We should all work together because we are writing a new story… And this new story should be about making more history,” concluded Tendo.   

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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.”

Joining Oilers a blessing in disguise for Barnaba Read More »

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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