Warriors out to ambush bankers

Monday November 21 2005

By CAXTON APOLLO

Who will win this year's men's basketball Premier League? That is the question many are asking as reigning champions Ulinzi Warriors face Co-operative Bank of Kenya in Game One of the nerve-tingling play-offs at Nairobi's Nyayo Stadium tomorrow at 4pm.

For Ulinzi Warriors, it will be an acid test against the bankers, who are out to capture the title they last won in 1998.

Ulinzi will be seeking to retain the title for the fourth time in a row to emulate Co-op Bank, the only side to win the league for four consecutive years between 1995 and 1998.

The soldiers, who have faced KCB Lions in the last four finals will now need to change their game plan against different opponents whom they will be meeting for the first time at this stage.

The Eastleigh-based airforce men, rocked Sprite Stormers 77-50 in Game One and powered their way into the final with a huge 101-75 victory in the one-sided Game Two. 

Co-op Bank, who put up a spirited performance in the second leg of the regular season, shocked regular campaigners KCB Lions 77-74 in their semi-final opener.

Lions, who have only claimed the league title only once, in 2001, despite playing in four consecutive finals, failed to qualify for this year's showdown when Co-op Bank sent them packing with an 83-79 extra-time score in Game Two.

Lions, the reigning East, Central and Southern Africa club champions forced Game Two to extra-time by locking the scores 74-74 in regulation time. 

But Co-op Bank outscored them 14-5 in the five minutes extra-time to realise their dream of qualifying for the finals after four years. 

Tomorrow, Ulinzi face a tall order in their bid to enter the history books by registering a fourth win in a row. 

After struggling to finish fourth in regular season with 26 points, the new-look Co-op Bank under coach Thomas "Smarts" Olumbo are expected to give Ulinzi a run for their money.

Olumbo took over Co-op Bank's coaching duties from Carey Oketch in the second leg at a time when the bankers had been ruled out of the play-offs. They lost their five opening matches in a row.

Co-op Bank defied the odds to book a place in the play-offs after only one loss in the second leg. The performance encouraged their fans to rally behind them. 

Ulinzi, will be appearing in this year's final without three key players - guard Simon Mugambi, forwards Ben Aruda and Moses "Chopper" Shida who made great contributions in their 2-1 win against KCB Lions last year.

In their absence, newcomers Richard Osano, Mike Tanu and Nelson Njau who joined Ulinzi this season from Mennonites and Sprite Stormers, are expected to call the shots. 

Ulinzi's guard Ben Mufutu, who has superly filled the gap left by Mugambi, Ancette Wafula and Victor Odendo are likely to be coached by Eliud Nzioka's secret weapon. Nzioka has just returned from a three-month coaching course in South Africa and his fresh ideas are likely to help the soldiers.

Co-op Bank, who lost to NSSF Stars in their last final in 2000, will parade a new team from the squad that lifted the crown in 1998.

Guards Solomon Onamu, Dennis Orina, Ben Iraya and Ben Rateng, who guided Co-op Bank when they dominated the league and the regional cup have since moved on. 

In their absence, basket hungry Collins Macharia, Dan Gaiko, Collins Gaya and Wycliffe Ochieng were drafted in to keep the fires burning. .

In Division One , Pirates and International Christian Centre face off in Game One to determine the 2005 champions.

Both teams are already through to the 2006 Premier League by virtue of having qualified to battle it out in the best-of-three series final.

ICC bundled out regular season winners Java Warriors 2-0 in the semi-final while Pirates struggled to eliminate Telkom 2-1.

Pirates, who were relegated from the Premiership last year, got off to a good start by beating Telkom 85-79. Telkom won Game Two 69-68 and Pirates the decider 87-85.

The varsity lads will parade Philip Dinga, Griffin Ligare and Mathew Ndungu in their bid to make a bright start. However, ICC coached by South African trained Faustin Mgendi will rely on experienced Ambrose Lusweti, James Omune and Mike Oda.

In the third position play-off, Java Warriors will take on Telkom.

- Previous League winnersKPA (1987), Eagles (1988), Nairobi Posta (1989), KPA (1990-1), Nairobi Posta (1992-4), Co-op Bank (1995-8), Ulinzi Warriors (1999), NSSF Stars (2000), KCB Lions (2001), Ulinzi Warriors (2002-4).

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