National team eyes winning return to continental championships after 27 years in the cold.
Kenya Morans will want to mark their return to FIBA AfroBasket Qualifiers, after 27 years of wait, with victory.
The national team will today at 6pm face off with Senegal in their opening Group B match of the qualifiers at the Kigali Arena, Rwanda.
The Kenyan boys have their work cut out as they seek to emerge unscathed in a group that also has giants Angola and Mozambique.
Morans must be at their best to overcome Senegal, who are ranked fourth in Africa and 35th in the global FIBA rankings. Their second tie will also not be a walk in the park when they take on Africa's seed two Angola, who are 32nd in the world.
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Confident his charges have what it takes to qualify for Africa’s top men’s competition, Morans’ coach Cliff Owuor said they would be out for a good start.
“Our aim is to perform better in Kigali for us to enhance our chances of qualifying for the second round. We have prepared well and are not paying much attention to what our opponents have achieved in their previous outings. We are only focused on giving our best and achieving our objective,” said Mr Owuor.
While Kenya last featured in AfroBasket in 1993, their opponents Senegal have been regulars, playing in 11 finals. They have won the title five times and finished second in six finals.
Even so, Morans captain Eric Mutoro said their eyes were set on one of three slots up for grabs in Group B, hence the need for them to post impressive results.
“We know that the only way for us to seal one of the tickets is by playing well and gaining an edge over our opponents. Victory in the first round is very crucial because it moves us closer to qualifying,” Mr Mutoro said.
Yesterday Kenya defeated South Sudan 68-66 in a friendly match in Rwanda. The Morans had beaten the Sudanese side 74-68 in AfroBasket pre-qualifiers at Nyayo Gymnasium last January.
Owuor will bank on the experience of power forward Ariel Okal, who plays for Algerian side Union Sportif De Setif.
Mutoro, who will be captaining Morans for the first time, hopes to emulate his predecessor Griffin Ligare.
His fighting spirit and ability to rally teammates to victory might have earned him the captaincy, and he will be a man of interest as he seeks to guide Kenya past Senegal.
Denmark-based Tylor Okari, who was instrumental for Kenya during the inaugural AfroCan tournament, will also seek to extend his good show for Morans. He returns to the side having missed the January pre-qualifiers.
Owuor will also rely on Desmond Owili, who plays for Kilsyth Cobras of Australia, Victor Bosire, Ronnie Gundo, Valentine Nyakinda and Preston Bungei, who will be making his national team debut.