Reaching for the hoop: A basketball story | Aga Khan Academies

Reaching for the hoop: A basketball story

Sadiq Issa, a Diploma Programme 1 (DP1) student at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, is a member of both the boys’ basketball team and the Reporters journalism club. He shares the story of the basketball team’s meteoric rise to becoming serious contenders for the national title.

The idea of an underdog is in itself paradoxical. We aspire to see them succeed, even when the odds are perpetually against them. This is a story about a team that did the impossible. A team who were once seen as nobodies but truly made their way to become somebodies.
From winning back-to-back Mombasa county and coast regional tournaments undefeated to aspiring for the national title, the Aga Khan Academy (AKA) Mombasa boys’ basketball team has grown by leaps and bounds. It is hard to believe that this group of 16–19 year-old champions and their charismatic coach were once 14–17 year-old amateurs – the majority of whom had never even played basketball, let alone played for a basketball team.
AKA Mombasa’s recruitment in the 2012–13 off-season proved inspired. The hiring of Coach Jimnah Kimani from Mombasa Baptist High School, just after he guided them to the national title, was a major sign of the big aspirations that the Academy had for its team. Initially the team consisted of a group of year 7s, 8s and 9s with big dreams and short throws. One of them was point guard and school president, Brian Kimwatan, who had never even played the sport until Coach Kimani came to the school. But slowly and surely, Coach shaped the young boys into athletes. From doing the dreaded 3K runs around the school’s 18-acre complex to two-hour training sessions three times a week, it was evident for a bystander that Coach had a cunning objective brewing in his mind.
It is said that one can only succeed if they sacrifice, and that is exactly what the boys had to endure. Going into 2014, a majority of the boys were already in year 10, bombarded by personal projects, preparation for May exams and now the upcoming county games. The boys had to learn resilience and dedication in order to manage all that was ahead of them. Once-a-week runs after school became three times a week in the morning before school. With the guidance of Coach Kimani, the boys had to push themselves to the limit in order to reach for their ambition of being crowned champions.
And that’s exactly what happened in the 2015-16 season. Whisking through both the county and regional games in fabulous fashion after practically not even being mentioned as contenders, the boys made an emphatic show for all those who witnessed it. It was the first time AKA Mombasa had won either title. There were new kids on the block.
Celebrations were cut short, as Coach knew what he wanted next for the team: The National Title. With only two weeks to nationals, he knew that in order to make the boys even contend for the title, he had to push them harder, much harder. 3K runs became 6K runs. The once weak, moaning group of kids now all knew what they were gunning for – to be the best.
Finally the moment had come. The boys had made it to the semifinals of the Kenya Open Boys High School Basketball National Championships held in Bungoma in April, guided by Coach Kimani. What had been a fragile group of tweens was now a team of champions, ready to compete with the likes of East African games regulars, Upperhill Boys, in order to attain the ultimate prize.
The boys put on an encouraging performance, winning their first two games back-to-back, but were sadly knocked out of the semifinals by the experienced Upperhill Boys of Nairobi 70-28. This did not seem to put the spirits of the team down. “Yes, after losing the semis there was a sense of disappointment in the team, but that didn’t last long," said one of the shooters in the team, Bilal Gulleid. From being doubted to even win the county games to reaching the semi-finals of the national games all in one season was truly a feat.
The boys are currently waiting for confirmation on their participation in the East African games. Even if they don't get it, this story of sweat, sacrifice and success is truly inspiring, probably even better than Leicester City's.

By Sadiq Issa, DP1 (The Reporters)