The Federation of Uganda Basketball Associations (FUBA) National Basketball League tipped of Friday night with five time champions Power edging defending champions City Oilers 60-56 in a tightly contested match up at Lugogo.
With City Oilers chasing a 5-peat since their arrival in the top flight division, they will attract a lot of attention.
Their most important player en-route to their four championships, Kami Kabange is long gone having joined Rwanda Energy Group (REG) at the end of the previous season.
National team captain Steven Omony, arguably the best player to have graced Ugandan basketball, marked his arrival with 11 points, 5 board, 1 assist and 1 steal off the bench.
Kabange is not the only player to have departed from the four time winners. Forward Andrew Opio and guard Adam Kakuru have both moved on while Joseph Chuma and James Deng switched from Our Savior to Mandy Juruni’s charges.
Juruni believes replacing Kabange is impossible and the team only made additions to have a full team rather than replace an individual.
“We are not replacing Kami (Kabange). We can’t replace him, we were short on numbers,” Juruni told Kawowo Sports.
In a repeat of last year’s final, Oilers locked horns with Power in the opening clash of the season and Arnold Lando’s charges registered the first win of the season.
Power were on the wrong end of things as Oilers won their fourth straight championship in a 4-1 series victory in January.
All eyes will be on the four time winners as they look to defend the championship and win a record fifth straight title.
They may now be disadvantaged after the departure of Kabange but whatever the Rwandan offered on offence, Omony can give them.
It will, however, be an advantage for the other teams to match up with the league winners.
James Okello, Landry Ndikumana and Brian Ssentongo remain as the only established big men for Juruni’s side with Chuma expected to step up big time.
Despite the changes, Oilers will still be the team to beat and are favourites to clinch yet another championship.
Having played the bigger part of last season with only eight players, Power have made additions in a bid to have the numbers in the title run.
Sunday Okot, Diego Anghemi, Sulaimani Bbale, Tyrone Martin and Julius Wapera are the new faces expected to give Power the required numbers in their quest for a sixth championship.
“We have the numbers and are ready to compete for the championship,” Lando revealed after his team’s win on Friday night.
Power have played two finals in the last three seasons but have only managed a single game in the two seven-game finals series.
With the recruitment, however, Power are contenders to march to their third final in four seasons.
In a bid to compete with the best – City Oilers, Warriors had to go the extra mile in their recruitment; they did and will start the season as top challengers for the crown.
The changes at the club started from the top with Sam Obol replaced by Ronnie Mutebi in the coaching role. Mutebi will be assisted by Warriors veteran Steven Okias.
Former Falcons player Mike Bazangu, Said Amisi, Aaron Ajjo, Daniel Gaaki and Development League wonder boy Stanley Mugerwa are the additions made by the club as they chase their third championship.
“I feel we are a better team on paper but we have to show up when it matters most,” Mutebi told this website ahead of his team’s first game of the season.
The first reality check for Warriors came at the UCU Open tournament when they fell in the finals to hosts UCU Canons.
While the side lost some players, they maintained the core of the team that lost to UCU in the quarterfinals last year.
Ivan Enabu, Marial Anyuit, Eric Malinga and Nigerian Ahmed Temitope were all released by the club.
Philip Ameny, arguably the team’s best player last season, Mark Opio, Ceaser Kizito and Syrus Kiviri are all still with the side and will compete for minutes with the new militia.
The biggest disappointment from the previous two seasons, KIU Titans have set out with yet a new-look side with massive changes made ahead of the season.
Diego Anghemi, Gatwek Tong, Jean Hakizimana and Mathew Ochieng all moved on while Norman Blick is still entangled in a transfer saga after signing for both KIU and newly promoted JKL Dolphins.
Joseph Bwanga, Francis Mbuyi, Gideon Kasasa and Caesar Adoke will don the green of KIU as the side looks to make the finals for the first time.
For the past two years, KIU have started the season with a task of having the team gel properly and this year will be no different.
Chris Omanye, Ivan Lumanyika and Captain Sudi Ulanga are the pillars of the team.
It is one of those seasons UCU Canons start with no major departures from the team that played in the previous season.
Apart from guard Nicholas Akora, who finished school, the Canons will start the season with the same team that finished third last season.
Nicholas Natuhereza’s charges have over the years exhibited the fighting spirit and will be hoping for another appearance in the finals.
It remains to be seen which players will step on court when StarTimes Falcons take on JKL Dolphins on Sunday.
The sleeping giants have been inactive in the off-season but are reported to be assembling a team that will be dominated by Congolese.
UCU Lady Canons
Having won the last two championships, the Lady Canons are chasing a 3-peat.
Like their men’s side, the university side have not lost any pivotal player and have the required chemistry to have a shot at defending their title.
Ritah Imanishimwe, Judith Nansobya, Zainah Lokwameri and team captain Vilma Achieng will play a big role in the fight to retain the title.
Veteran Loraine Akinyi is also set to feature more often for the side.
The changes at the club started from the top. Team manager Robert Mugabe has since left and was replaced by veteran Becky Akullo.
Head coach Timothy Odeke was also relieved of his duties and replaced by Rogers Sserunyigo who will be assisted by Albert Aciko.
The locker room will not be the same after the departure of veteran guard Flavia Okecho who joined emerging force JKL Lady Dolphins. Muhayimina Namuwaya also joined JKL.
Sylvia Nakazibwe, Cynthia Irankunda and Grace Wanjiku have joined the club from Javon, USIU and JKL respectively.
The side has also acquired the services of Melvin Iminza from USIU but the forward is expected to join the team later in the season.
JKL Lady Dolphins
After falling to KCCA in the semi finals last year, JKL Lady Dolphins launched an attack on their rivals poaching out Okecho and Namuwaya. Add onto those Florence Nanyonga from KIU Rangers and JKL are ready to compete and break the UCU-KCCA duopoly.
Angella Namirimu, Peace Nakirijja and Jamilah Nansikombi are the survivors from last season’s team and will steer the team in the search for a first final appearance.