Shorter-than-normal Ugandan basketball player uses ‘brain’ to excel
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/03/shorter-than-normal-ugandan-basketball-player-uses-brain-to-excel/
(NOTE: Across the United States, March Madness refers to National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball competitions – a month when university rivalries are at their peak. In honor of the “madness” of watching American basketball in March 2020 and in collaboration with interns working at the Uganda Christian University student newspaper, The Standard, UCU Partners is featuring stories on the UCU sports of basketball, netball, soccer, rugby and hockey.)
By Maria Eyoru
Every evening, when returning the Standard newspaper office keys to the Uganda Christian University (UCU) main gate, I watch students, namely members of the UCU Cannons boys team, practice at the nearby court.
My interest in the game especially peaked when I observed the shortest player on the team. He dribbled the ball, gripping it firmly in his hands while smartly ducking to dodge his taller opponents. I was intrigued by this young man who stood at five feet, eight inches – more than four inches shorter than any other player.
His feet appeared to move as light as feathers as he smartly ran fast while still dribbling the ball, ducking down to pass the ball to a teammate. That uncanny speed, especially by a not-so-tall player, caught my attention. The opponents seemed lost and confused. Captivated by what I saw, I decided to talk to this player – Fayed Baale. I simply had to know more about this UCU player of a sport, basketball, which started internationally in 1891 and in Africa in the early 1960s.
Fayed’s journey to become a basketball player wasn’t easy. It was a difficult voyage that involved a game of cat and mouse. Before he developed the interest in basketball, he had a passion for playing football (soccer) as is most common among the youths of Uganda.
One of his coaches, Zayed Yahaya, approached him about shifting his skill to basketball. Zayed nudged and kept nudging until Fayed joined in Secondary 3 (high school junior year).
Fayed said his coach’s persistence was so overwhelming that he found strategies to “dodge” him. Half joking, Fayed added, “He started monitoring me and punishing me, so I played out of fear.”
At the onset, Fayed’s parents were not supportive and asked teachers to discourage him from being on the court. Basketball began in 1963 in Uganda. It was registered under the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and has since grown to have over 20 teams. It is popular but still lags behind soccer that has been around longer.
“My parents tasked the teachers at school to punish me if they ever found me on court, but they did not,” Fayed said.
He eventually developed a passion for the game and started to play with the National Basketball Association (NBA) Junior League; the team won the NBA Junior League in 2015.
Though he loves the game, he understands that height as his could be a challenge. He overcomes his elevation deficiency with being quick on his feet, playing smart and focusing on his goals. He has to put in extra effort and works twice as hard as the other players through speed and quick thinking.
“What it takes for me to make it, you have to have the heart, passion, self motivation, patience and work harder,” he said. “I work out a lot so that by the time I go for the game, I’m faster than others. And I use my brain. That is how I survive.”
His drive comes, in part, from Stephen “Steph” Curry, a Golden State Warrior with National Basketball Association honors in the United States. Curry is taller than Fayed and from a sports family with a role model sports father and basketball-playing brother and volley ball-playing sister. Curry also is a decade older than 20-year-old Fayed, the first born of seven children. Yet, despite differences, the California basketball star serves as an inspiration for the younger and shorter Ugandan.
Fayed is planning on playing the sport professionally when he finishes his education and while being a human rights activist in Uganda. He is pursuing a Bachelors degree in Human Rights, Peace and Humanitarian Interventions within the Social Science faculty at UCU.
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