Five games into the regular season, UCU Canons sit atop of the 12 team log with five wins from as many games. The Canon-City is elevating. The peak for their rising curve is nowhere in sight.
They have had a bright start to the season – beating Ndejje (70-65), Our Saviour (79-51), KCCA (92-84), City Oilers (90-82) and Betway Power (71-68).
“We are not playoffs team yet,” that is what Coach Nicholas Natuhereza, who is in USA for personal reasons, said during a chat, after his team beat five time champions Betway Power on Wednesday night.
May be he is trying to take pressure off his boys, may be he is being realistic, but whatever it is, the exciting boys are this year’s team to watch.
Last season, UCU lost three of their opening five games including a walkover loss to Pemba Warriors (now Warriors) on the opening weekend after FUBA officials claimed that the Mukono based team had not been cleared in regards to their Hepatitis B cards, an essential for any team to play.
To make it clear, UCU managed just five wins in the whole of first round of the regular season! What has changed?
Is UCU a contender or Pretender?
The best they have come closest in the National Basketball League was forcing a finals game seven – OK to make it sweet, they are the only team to have put up a formidable challenge since Oilers started their rampage in 2013 to date.
The year was 2015, and even though they led the first quarter 20-12 in game seven at YMCA, their roster of Stephen Wundi, Desmond Owili, Brian Namake, Innocent Odur and Jonathan Egau among others, could not hold on to stop Oilers from earning a three-peat.
Is this the year for the Canons?
Let’s start with their strength:
Magician In Coach Nick
Imagine if UCU were retaining their players after graduation? What a dream team they would have had by now.
With such a disadvantage, the University has always found solace in Coach Nick who is celebrating ten years since he joined the campus team – But that will be the story for another day.
Coach Nick is always tasked to find the best crop of youngsters from High schools all around the country and other parts of East Africa to replace the departed. He has moulded about 30% of the players in the NBL.
He is a great coach who studies not only the weakness and strength of his players but also the opponents. His calls, plays among others have seen the Canons become a regular fixture in the playoffs.
UCU plays an attractive game to watch, they share the ball across the court, they are very athletic and aggressive, and they are a shooting team which makes them difficult to contain.
Their Greatest Weakness – Lack of Quality on Bench
Their starting five of Joas Maheta (Point guard), Isaiah Mabeny (Shooting guard), Titus Lual (Small forward), David Deng (Power forward) and Fadhil Chuma (Centre) can beat anyone in the league – They have proved that. Anyone doubting?
But their ceiling will be decided by how much their bench will offer in critical conditions.
Point guard Fayed Baale has been a great sixth player, he has played in all their five games. He is a good shooter and passes with ease. He can fast break and can play isolation basketball as well. That is good news for Maheta and Mabeny as they can go back on bench to refresh. But what happens to Deng or Chuma?
Deng and Chuma have averaged 36 and 34 minutes respectively. It is bad news for a team that is going to play back to back games, six games in a space of ten days. And it gets worse with playoffs. And it is yet known if they have those legs to last the distance. They are not James Okello or Landry Ndikumana. They will need a breather, they will need time to rest but they are not true replacements.
To show you how worse this might be, after five games, none of their bench players has managed over 16 points in total!
The New Faces
Last season’s players like Brian Kasumba, Derrick Isiko, Farhan Simba and Juach Nyong have left the Mukono team while Veteran Yahaya Kasumba has joined the technical bench.
Fayed Baale, from Rez Life, has proved to be a good addition. Tyron Martin who years back was at Kibuli and Power, Sifuna Peter (Ssaku), Jerry Kayanga (Destiny Phenoms) and Lwabaga Ibanda Umaru (Phenoms) have joined the team.
Can UCU Mount a Challenge?
Their 71-68 win over Betway Power revealed much about UCU. They at one point led by 20 points before almost squandering a lead by allowing Power to go on a scoring run of 12 points. This will speak much about their character. They will have to learn on ways to kill off games and put them beyond opponent’s reach. That said, they will be a good banker.
Winning a title will be too much asking from them, but they will fancy a good post season run in. For starters, finishing top of the regular season should be top of their priority so as they can get easier teams in the knockout. In an era where reaching the finals is a big prestige due to Oilers recent dominance, UCU might repeat that run of 2015.
UCU must capitalise on the fact that other contenders, like KIU Titans and Betway Power are having a downward spiral, to fill the top void.