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Kenya champions ambitions for regional throne suffers dent

Lynette Matheka in Dar es Salaam @PeopleSport11

Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) men’s basketball team had a day to forget at the FIBA Africa Zone Five competitions that jumped off yesterday at the Tanzania National Indoor Arena in Dar es Salaam as they lost their opening match 56-39 to former Rwanda’s league champions Rwanda Energy Group (REG) to put a dent to their maiden title campaign.

Coach Sammy Kiki’s charges arrived in Tanzania with aspirations of bettering their performance in last year’s Zone Five competitions where they won Bronze but could not quite get the desired start. The Dockers had a perfect run in the Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) league where they have lost just one match in the regular season and Kiki was confident the good run would spill over to the regional tourney.

“It is unfortunate that we have lost the opening match but we pick a valuable lesson from the same. REG came hard at us and we fought back but our defence was wanting. As we focus on the remaining group matches, we rectify our mistakes and fight for wins to enter the semis. My target remains to reach the finals despite the group I am in,” said Kiki.

The KBF defending champions are in Pool A that has host champions Jeshi la Kitaifa Tanzania (JKT), Rwanda’s REG, Egypt’s Smouha, Ethiopia Water (EWSA) and South Sudan’s Cobra.

Their Kenyan counterparts, Strathmore University Blades, making their debut on that stage, are pitted against two-time Rwandese league champions Powerhouse Patriots, Tanzania’s Oilers,  Burundi’s New Stars, Wolkite City from Ethiopia and 2016 Africa Champions Al- Ahly of Egypt.

“Nothing is lost just yet. We have prepared for this championship knowing that the matches will be tough but we have a target of featuring in the final tour where 16 teams will battle for the African title. To feature in that tournament, we have to be in the finals in this championship that doubles as the qualifier since the top two teams qualify for the FIBA AfroLeague.

Last year we missed that chance narrowly after we lost to winners Oilers of Uganda by five points in the semis. The chemistry and maturity of my players give me confidence that our goals are achievable,” added Kiki.

REG had lined up a strong side that has national team players Kenneth Gasana, Dan Manzi and former skipper Hamza Ruhezamihigo.  They also enjoyed the services of American born Stephan Shepherd and Cameroonian Belck Bell Engelbert who were instrumental in the win.

“Our mission is to win the tournament. We had ample preparation time and  I have a strong squad that I believe can win the championship, said REG coach Richard Ngwijuruvugo.

In another match, Ethiopia Water could not match the brilliance of North Africans Smouha on the court as they went down 108-38 in a one-sided encounter. The second Kenyan team Blades had their fixture slated for 10.30 pm last night.

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