Kenya Morans player Desmond Owili is now crowd favourite in Australia

Desmond Owili in action against Melbourne. [Courtesy]

In line with the good book which says one must seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness so all other things may be added unto them, Kenya Morans centre player Desmond Owili indeed started on the right footing.

What began as a hunt for spiritual nourishment over a decade ago led him to Shauri Moyo Baptist Church.

Fresh from high school, Owili who fondly refers to himself as a village boy travelled from his Ulumbi home to Nairobi in 2008 for Christmas. At the church, the former football and handball player had his first encounter with basketball.

“Simply put I’m a village boy, I went to Ulumbi Primary School in Yala, then Mithui Secondary School in Oyugis so I was not exposed to urban life. Nyanza is crazy about football and so just like every other boy in my village I wanted to be a football star,” Owili said.

After fulfilling his spiritual needs, Owili would go to the church’s basketball court to play pick-up games.

Pick up games are informal matches which are mainly played without rules.

“In January 2009 I started developing interest and joined other players at the court but for two months I only played pick-up games while learning from them the basics.”

Dunking ability

He fell in love with basketball after being wowed by his ability to dunk easily. “After realising that I could dunk easily my desire to learn became stronger and focused more on learning all the basic skills a player required to play competitively.”

In February, Owili went to a tournament at World Hope and the club signed him. Six months later while playing for World Hope he caught the eyes of the current Strathmore University women’s team coach Ronnie Owino who helped him sign for Posta.

“Prior to meeting coach Owino I had little knowledge of the game although I had made notable improvements. He helped me build confidence and also bolster my playing skills, I played for Posta for two and a half years,” he added.

While at Posta he played so well that Uganda Christian University offered him a full sports scholarship in 2011.

“Everything went well for me, I made progress as a player and away from the game. I must say basketball opened a world of opportunities for me because it is through the sport that I had the chance to study and on a full scholarship,” he said.

At the Uganda Christian University, Owili pursued a degree in Business Administration for four and a half years graduating in October 2015. “After graduation I decided to remain with the team until 2016, thereafter I went to Australia for a visit.”

In Australia, Owili found a new home after signing for Diamond Valley Club playing for them in the Big V League 2016 season. Just as he started it was the pick-up games that earned him a place in the Australian club.

“They signed me after playing several pick-up games and I played for the club for one season before getting a better offer at Kilsyth Cobras in the top tier in 2017.”

Owili who secured his first national team call up in 2009 is a multi-talented player who apart from basketball, football and handball he is also brilliant in netball and had a short stint with Kenya Prisons. Following his hard work and dedication, he finally made it to the Kenya Morans in 2011 and has been a regular in international assignments.

“I was called to the national team in 2009 for the first time but never made it because I was still raw and had not sharpened my skills. I never gave up and continued working hard and after close to two years I finally earned my place for an outing in Rwanda, I have never looked back since then.”

He said it has been great playing in Australia because it has improved his game. “Playing in the Australian league is a great experience and it has helped me become a better player hence being a regular in the national team. I have given my best here (Australia) earning the trust of the club and fans at large and I intend to keep improving myself so I can add value to Kilysth Cobras.”

He said although he has been to many duties for the country, the highlight of his basketball career has been beating Egypt for the first time last year and winning Zone Five.

“Kenyans have for many years lost to the North Africans not just in basketball but in other sports also. Beating Egypt last year was historic and the best moment of my playing career because we had lost to them many times and they never even expected us to beat them but we did it and we have never been the same again because that victory ignited winning spirits in us,” Owili continued.

Owili was part of the Kenya Morans squad that qualified for the 2021 AfroBasket Qualifiers set for November.

Kenya beat South Sudan 74-68 in scintillating decisive clash at Nyayo Gymnasium to seal the ticket to the final qualifying round for the continental championship.

Until his star continued shining brighter he was the only one in the family playing but now his nephew Philip Owili is following in his footsteps.

Philip just like his uncle wants to excel in basketball and he knows too well that he can make his dreams come true by aligning himself with the best in the sport.

And where else can he make it happen if not with East Africa’s best and regional basketball powerhouse Laiser Hill Academy.

“Philip loves what I do and I’m not just his uncle but he considers me his role model. He showed interest in basketball and I support him. I believe that at Laiser Hill he will get the skills that will set him on path to achieving his objectives,” Owili said.

Unlike his uncle who only enjoyed success as a senior player Philip has already tasted success winning the national secondary school's boys’ basketball title twice with Laiser Hill.

In Australia he is also pursuing a course in sports management so he can add value to the country when he is done playing.

“I’m also studying a sports management course and my aim is to acquire skills that will help improve and build Kenyan sports. Other countries have professionalised sports but we are yet to get there and I think lack of sports managerial skills is the reason we are lagging behind,” he added.

Owili or Des as he is popularly known back home within the basketball family has a big heart and has helped nurture talent in the country.

“Back home in Nyanza, people love football and so I organise football tournaments so I can nurture talent and give my people what is close to their hearts. I also organise basketball tournaments in Nyanza and Nairobi for boys so they can have a platform to nurture their talents. I intend to make these tournaments big and regular so they can get more opportunities to play.”

Owili’s generosity knows no boundaries and he is one of the few individuals who have sacrificed their own resources to help needy families in Nairobi slums following the Covid-19 pandemic.  

He has a weekly feeding programme that provides food for slum dwellers around the city. “It is my way of giving back to the society, it is a weekly programme and every weekend through the help of coach Cliff Owuor I provide food for families in different slums across the city.”

He hopes that after the world returns to normalcy after overcoming the deadly coronavirus, he will organise events locally for upcoming players and be in the team that will battle Senegal, Mozambique and Angola for a place in next year’s AfroBasket tournament set for August in Kigali, Rwanda. Apart from playing and studying, Owili also works and is a doting father.