By Collins Kakwezi & Isaac Akugizibwe
City Oil Basketball Club may still, in the eyes of many, be the team to beat in the quest for this season’s National Basketball League (NBL) title, but the KIU Titans are dangerously simmering below the surface, ready to drag the defending champions down in their own rise to the top.
The 2017 league finalists have won 6 of their first 7 league games and the undeniable force behind this surge has been, without a doubt, the unbelievable form of American – Somali star Faisal Aden.
He has scored in double digits in all 7 games, averaging over 23 points per game and lifting a Titans side that has sometimes looked short of inspiration.
In one of their latest league encounters against Falcons on Saturday, May, 29th at the UCU Courts in Mukono, Aden had to come up with a last-gasp 3 points to give Titans a 65-62 win. He followed this up with 34 points in the 93-72 win against the KCCA Panthers on Sunday, May 30th.
And just a few days later, on June 1st, he was voted the basketballer of the month for May in the Fortebet Real Stars Sports Awards at Route 256 Restaurant in Lugogo, Kampala.
It is no wonder that Titans are the leading scorers in the league, with a total of 616 points, while leaders City Oilers are further back with only 507 points scored.
And if Aden continues with his blistering form, City Oilers will be constantly looking over their shoulders for the rest of the season, especially in the crucial playoffs stage.
Titans do not need to finish on top in the regular season standings – second place is enough to hand them a favourable playoff tie - and as things stand, they could face seventh-placed UPDF Tomahawks, whom they thrashed 85 – 62 earlier in the season, with yet another Aden-inspired show.
Teammate Ariel Okall, who was regarded as a marquee signing for the team by a large section of the basketball fraternity, believes that Faisal Aden has been a vital player for the team and that his best basketball is yet to unfold.
"Aden is a championship calibre player and we are happy to have him in the team. We are yet to see Aden's best basketball. I still believe his best basketball is ahead of him in the playoffs," the Kenyan international told this website in an interview.
Aden has attributed his impressive start to the warm welcome and appreciation from teammates, which aided his comfortable start to life in an alien land. Prior to the conclusion of his transfer, Aden had embarked on playing pickup ball on the streets of Miami, Florida, a daily routine aimed at ensuring he stays fit.
"Before I came to Uganda, I played a lot of pick-up ball in Miami, Florida every day to hone my skills for the upcoming season here," Aden reflects.
He also credits coach Brian Wathum’s down-to-earth personality and tactics, which he calls “world-class”, telling this website that the KIU Titans locker room has become a simple basketball family.
"The coach always takes time out to talk to me and makes sure I'm doing well. So far the Titans have become like a family, everything has really been great. The players have made sure I am comfortable in the team," he noted.
And if the standout player in the entire league this season keeps piling up the numbers, Titans might just be able to pip the unrelenting City Oilers to this year’s honours, which would be a historic feat for the Kansanga-based giants, who have never won the league title before.
Photo: KIU Titans