When Nigerian guard Ifunanya Okoro joined Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) women’s basketball team in March, she did not foresee that she could be voted the Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) Premier League Most Valuable Player (MVP).
The 23-year-old combo guard wasted no time adjusting to her new environment at KPA, and the results have been excellent. And her performances have been exhilarating. Quite evident for all to see.
From averaging 1.4 point and 1.8 rebound per game four years ago, Okoro not only matured in her game, but she's become an established player, leading all players in scoring.
Okoro averaged 20.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game in the best-of five-series against Zetech Sparks as KPA swept the university students 3-0 to win the 2023 title on an unbeaten record and for the second consecutive year.
Her sleek moves and handles on the court added with perfect shooting beyond and inside the arc saw the Nigerian international voted this year’s MVP, taking over from Kenya Lioness star Natalie Akinyi who won the award last season when they edged out Equity Hawks 3-1.
“It feels good to be the champions. We have been working so hard throughout the season for this and we are grateful. I feel honored. I want to thank my teammates and coaches because I could not have done it without them,” Okoro told Standard Sports.
“I have no secret for my dominance since I arrived in Kenya but real hard work. I worked my way to where I am now and I'll keep on working. It is great to see your hard work paying off. Consistency is the key.”
She first featured for KPA in the FIBA Africa Champions Cup Women's campaign in Maputo, Mozambique in December last year and was one of the top performers in the show where KPA finished third. She was also named in the tournament’s best five.
“Okoro is an outstanding player, a full package you would want from a player. Very intelligent, knows how to reads the game and is a natural scorer,” her coach Anthony Ojukwu said.
KPA is the team to beat next season after dominating the KBF Premier League yet again.
KPA teams won the men’s and women’s titles for the second year running as the Coastal region took the basketball bragging rights away from Nairobi.
In the men’s league, KPA saw off Equity Bank Dumas 3-1 to retain the title they won last season when they dethroned Ulinzi Warriors after coming from behind to win the best-of-five finals series 3-2.
The men’s MVP also come from KPA. Eugene Adera, who averaged 13.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists, won the award.
“We played as a team. We know what each person can do on the floor, so our aim is to make everyone excel at what they do best. My coach and my teammates helped me through. I couldn’t have done it without them. They were my anchor,” said Adera.
What was KPA’s secret weapon as they extended their dominance in the league once more?
KPA team manager Christopher Ogutu said it all started with the help they got from their sponsors.
“We recruited well and had the chance to train together for longer periods than before. This was importance in helping us build some chemistry," he said.
“Unlike before, we incorporated many young players in the team that balanced the team in terms of energy and experience and through constant support and hard work in training, we reached the top,” he added.
Both teams will represent Kenya at the 2023 annual Basketball League Africa (BAL) and Zone V championships and Ogutu says they are going to do massive recruitment as they seek to conquer Africa this time round.
“We can’t stop here. We want to do well in African championships especially BAL and we are going to invest more in new players in a bid to take the clubs to the next level,” Ogutu said.
KPA women’s coach Anthony Ojukwu said they are not resting and have started preparation for next season.
The former Kenya Morans player said they want to be the best in all the tournaments they will play in.
“To win the championship, a lot of character is needed. Going on top is easy, but staying there is difficult. The players showed a lot of character and good planning from the coaches. It is a collective responsibility as a team and that is why we won."
“The dominance is all about our discipline and hard work. The support from the management and good recruitment of players made us tick. We now shift focus because another journey begins,” said the former Kenya Morans player.
KPA won the women’s league on an unbeaten record after winning all their 22 matches in the regular season while their male counterparts lost only two matches in the regular season.