Valentine Nyakinda Otula continues to break fresh ground in basketball.
In fact, the 28-year-old Kenya international, fondly known as “Boozer,” says the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t have come at a worst possible time, just as he was primed to travel for professional duty to Madagascar and the USA.
“I could now be plying my trade in Madagascar with Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club, whom I had agreed to join, in principle, after my pro-camp invite in the USA in April, had it not been for the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic", Nyakinda told Nation Sport Wednesday.
Being the only player invited for the USA camp from East Africa, Nyakinda regrets the missed “golden opportunity” after the camp was cancelled following a global stoppage of play due to coronavirus.
Although the small forward, who is strong on the board and relies mostly on his trademark penetration and three-point shooting for most of his field goals, continues to bask in the glory of his family’s stellar sporting accomplishments, he’s eager to chart out a path of his own.
The last born in a family of eight started his basketball at 13, just after his Standard Eight examinations. But he only started to take the game more seriously while in Form One at Maseno School in 2006, then under the tutelage of his uncle, Paul Agali Otula, the current Kenya Basketball Federation chairman.
And he has never looked back ever since, scaling the heights to the the national team, the “Morans.” “I was born in a family of sportspeople, basketballers to be precise, but I did not start playing the game until while in Form One at Maseno School where my bothers, especially Clement Nyakinda - currently the principal and coach of Homa Bay County girls’ basketball champions, Ototo Secondary School - were winning accolades,” he says.
Nyakinda, who has established himself as Kenya's best small forward, says getting into Maseno School's roster was a tall order because the school was a powerhouse in basketball. But he bid his time patiently, and waited for his chance which finally came when he was in Form Two.
“When I joined Maseno, I realised that my brothers had dominated in basketball at national secondary school level, then exchanging the MVP titles between them which motivated me to work even harder,” Nyakinda says.
This was in reference to his brothers Paul Nyakinda, who was Most Valuable Player when Maseno School won the national title in 2002, Richard Otula, who was MVP in 2005, and Edwin Otula, the MVP in 2008.
The six-foot-seven Nyakinda, who currently weighs 96 kilogrammes, however, had to wait until 2011 for his first major individual title.
This was when he was named MVP while a student at Strathmore University during the university games. He later transferred to the University of Nairobi for to gain his commerce degree, graduating in 2016.
Nyakinda's basketball journey then took him to the Middle East in 2015, immediately after graduating, joining Al Ahli Sidab Club in Oman.
Here, he averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds per game during the 2016/17 season.
He impressed the PLS Hawks of the Seychelles who recruited him for the 2017-2018 season.
He averaged 32 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks per game for the islanders before opting to return to Kenya to join Kenya Ports Authority last year.
Nyakinda, who is eagerly waiting for the pandemic to subside, played a pivotal role in the “Morans” team which re-wrote the history books, winning their first ever Africa Zone Five Afro-basket qualifiers in Uganda in June last year, beating, among others, the dreaded Egypt.
They went on to finish a respectable second at the African Championships in Bamako in July.
Nyakinda represented Kenya at the Africa Under-18 Championships in Egypt in 2008 and 2010 and also at a four-nation tournament in South Africa.
He maintains Kenya stands a good chance at the Afrobasket round of 16 qualifiers where they are scheduled to meet Mozambique, Angola and Senegal.
"We have a very youthful team with players full of energy and a competitive edge. This should be our strong point when we meet our opponents later in the year," he said.