Last September, the ‘Silverbacks’ of Uganda etched out regionally dominant Rwanda, as well as Kenya and Somalia, to finish second to Egypt in the Zone 5 FIBA regional qualifier for this year’s Afrobasket. On Wednesday, the East African nation will make their first ever appearance at Afrobasket.
Anchored by players like Henry Malinga and John Bawlgaire, the typical hoops fan isn’t likely to recognize many faces on Uganda’s roster. A one-time walk-on for national power UConn, before wrapping up his college career playing for new Division I entrant Binghamton University in 2003, Stanley Ocitti is perhaps the most recognizable name on the Silverbacks’ roster.
At 35 and a veteran of professional leagues in Hungary, Austria, Japan and Great Britain, Ocitti isn’t your typical national team rookie. We recently caught up with him to talk Ugandan Hoops and Afrobasket.
Noah Perkins: I was under the impression you were a Cambridge dude, where were you born and where did you spend your childhood?
Stanley Ocitti: I was born in Kampala, Uganda. I moved from Uganda to Europe when I was eight and lived in Germany and Holland for 10 years before moving to Massachusetts when I was 18.
What prompted your family to leave Uganda?
My dad got a job in Germany working for a media company so he decided to relocate the whole family there.
Have you been back to Uganda since you left and how central was your heritage to your identity growing up?
This has been my first experience coming back to Uganda in 27 years. Growing up my parents definitely kept us in touch with Ugandan culture through food, music, literature and language.
What has it been like for you coming back after so much time?
It goes beyond basketball. I get a chance to reconnect with so many members of my family that I have not seen since I was a child. I get to explore where I came from and expand my identity as a Ugandan.
How did you get involved with the National Team?
I reached out to one of the guys on the National team after they had qualified for Afrobasket and he got me in touch with management. They were kind enough to want me on board. So we just started the process and paper work from there.
How would you describe the style of play in East Africa? How Does Afrobasket stack up to say DI ball?
It is a very, very, fast-paced game. Everybody from the guards to the bigs really run the floor. Whereas in other leagues that I have played in and also at the DI level they stress a mix of half-court basketball and fast break ball.
From what I see on paper I would say that Afrobasket definitely surpasses DI basketball. I think in terms of talent it is very high. Just looking at some of the teams’ rosters that are filled with NBA players and overseas professional players in top leagues.
Coaching style I can’t speak too much on but I have seen that some teams have very experienced coaching staffs.
What is the popularity of basketball like among East Africans? How much of a following does the national team have in Uganda?
I was pleasantly surprised at how popular basketball has become in East Arica. I had no idea it had such a huge following. In Uganda the fans are intense and very loyal to their teams in the FUBA league. Some games get so packed there is only standing room in the gym.
The national team has a strong following in Uganda, as a team though we need more support from different areas as well as people within the nation. This is the first time Uganda has qualified for Afrobasket so I think a lot of people within Uganda are unsure of what to expect from this team.
Does qualifying alone make Afrobasket a success for Uganda? You guys got bracketed with Nigeria and Tunisia in probably the toughest group, what kind of expectations does the team have going in?
Being at the tournament is definitely a success for Uganda, but we also want to take this opportunity to introduce Ugandan basketball to the world. Hopefully this helps expand basketball on a national level. We want Uganda to be one of the top consistent qualifiers for AfroBasket in the coming years.
I think as basketball players you always play to win, so we are going with that mindset. Within the team we have high expectations of ourselves. To win games it will have to be a group effort offensively and defensively. We really have to be on the same page as a team for the whole game.
It is pretty uncommon to see a guy making his debut with a national team at your age. Do you see yourself involved with the national team beyond this year?
Great question and, honestly, I do not know what the future holds for me in regards to the national team. I wish I could rewind back the hand of time so that I had a couple more years to play, but I think in any way that I can help the national team I am 100 percent willing. I am really excited for Ugandan basketball to take off and be talked about with the rest of the top African basketball nations. So to be able to be a part of that transition is an honor and I hope I will be over the next years.