By Richard Wetaya

22 year old Claire Lamunu has the

Basketball world at her feet.
Voted the 2014 Uganda Sports Press Association female basketball player of the year and the 2014 National Basketball league playoffs Women’s most Valuable player, Lamunu has been on an amazing roll.

Dominant performances last year for the Uganda’s national women’s basketball team (the Gazelles) and for the KCCA Leopards at the Zone 5 Afro basketball qualifiers and in the national league respectively, left little doubt in many people’s minds about who the best female basketball player in the country and in the Africa Zone 5 region is.

Lamunu inspired the Gazelles as they made history, qualifying for the All Africa games and the Afro Basket championships for the first time.
The all Africa games and the Afro basket championships will be held later on this year in Congo Brazzaville and Cameroon respectively.

In the aftermath of that, she led her KCCA Leopards team to their fourth national basketball league championship.

In many ways, Lamunu is testament to the fact that basketball is not necessarily about being big.
Lamunu is 5 foot, 9 inches tall, slender and small. When she starts playing however, she does give more than a good account of herself.
In a sense, she encapsulates what James Wooden, the legendary American basketball coach, once said, “It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play the game that matters”.

Lamunu (who plays in the small forward position) was, without doubt, Uganda’s biggest scoring threat at the Zone 5 Afro basketball qualifiers. She proved a reliable offensive option for the Gazelles, who had looked sloppy in their first and second games.
When the tournament drew to a close, she led all scorers, garnering two accolades, the most valuable player (tournament best player) and top scorer (76 points).
Lamunu was in double figures in every Gazelle’s game, averaging a career best 24 points in the Gazelle’s penultimate game and in the last game, as well.
In the national basketball league finals, where her KCCA Leopards team was pitted against the Uganda Christian University Cannons, she also led all scorers, averaging a series high 21 points, as they won the best of seven series, 4-3.
Lamunu was also crowned top scorer in the zone five club championships in Mombasa, she finished with 111 points.
In the same breath, she also took home the Zuku university basketball league most defensive and most valuable player (best player) accolades.

Helping the Gazelles qualify for the all Africa games and the Afro basket championships and steering her KCCA Leopards team to their fourth national league championship is principally the reason why Lamunu is in the running for the 2014 Nile special Uganda Sports Press Association sports personality of the year award.
She is pitted against a formidable cast in Moses Kipsiro (Athletics), Peace Proscovia (Netball and Basketball) and Yunus Sentamu (Football).


“The Zone 5 Afrobasket qualifying tournament was the most difficult and trying tournament I have played in. Fans had given up on us after we lost our first two games. Needless to say, the odds were stacked against us, especially going into the third game. We had to pick ourselves up and we owed to ourselves and the nation to perform well in the next game. Thank God it worked out well. The victory in the end was sweet. The night we won the zone 5 Afro basket qualifiers, it did not occur to me that I would be the MVP (most valuable player) of the tournament. The fact that we had gone against all odds to win the championship was more fulfilling. The MVP feeling came in days later when I saw the trophy in my room,” Lamunu remembers.

Lamunu’s star is clearly in the ascendancy and she is hoping the Gazelles can replicate the form they exhibited at the Zone 5 qualifiers at the All Africa games and at the Afrobasket championships.
“Anything is possible. The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital. So I believe if we work hard, we can go far. And who knows, we can win it as well. It would be another historic feat. I hope to go out there and give the team my best. We shall go out there and compete. I believe Ugandan basketball can go places. With organised management, better results can be achieved. If we start training and developing talent in primary and secondary schools, our future is very bright. I believe there is a lot of talent out there,” Lamunu says.

Lamunu started shooting the rock (basketball slang for pIaying basketball) in 2008 in Gulu.
“I played my first game of Basketball in Gulu. I remember stumbling upon a couple of guys playing at Kaunda grounds. I joined in and played with them in my casual clothes. A week later, I got a pair of sneakers and jerseys. The sneakers were ill fitting but I was having none of it. The zeal to play was at a crescendo. When I got back to school, Mt St Mary’s College, Namagunga, I practiced harder. I made my debut playing for the school team in 2009.  In 2011, I played in the continental youth cup in Cleveland, USA, averaging 10 rebounds per game. I remember playing with 13 and 14 year old’s but they were very good. I could see the hard work they put in to improve their game. It was something to reflect on for me. I thought to myself, if these kids can work that hard to improve and harness their game, who am I not to. It was an experience that had me dreaming about one day playing abroad. It is still my biggest dream,” Lamunu says buoyantly.

Word had quickly spread about Lamunu’s showmanship, versatility and proficiency on the court and it was only a matter of time before she would get signed.
In 2012, Lamunu signed for first club, the Gladiators.
“I was exhilarated on getting a phone call from coach, Harriet Lubowa of the Gladiators basketball club. I recall telling everyone gleefully how I was going to play in the league for a club. In 2013 after some time playing for the Gladiators, I decided to join the KCCA Leopards. It is my club to date,” Lamunu says.

2013 as well was the year Lamunu got called up for her national team debut.
“I was summoned for national team trials in January 2013. I went for each training session, but I knew I was never going to make it to the team. Competition was stiff and I was young. I however eventually made it to the team and featured in the Zone 5 qualifiers in Daressalam, Tanzania,” Lamunu says.

Lamunu currently a third year biomedical engineering student at Makerere, admits juggling academics and basketball has been no walk in the park.
“It takes a lot of discipline and commitment. I just try to do my best when it’s time for both. With God as my guide however, everything usually works out well,” Lamunu notes.

I plan to work harder and incorporate new things lacking in my game. I want to play to my full potential and see where I will be. I want to get better and become the best that I can be. God gave me the talent and I do dream of playing professional basketball some day. For now however, its operation Afrobasket and All Africa games, Lamunu says.

Whilst many a player will complain about low remuneration, Lamunu seems concerned about an issue fans have for long grumbled about, the slippery playing surface at the YMCA courts in Wandegeya.
Its worth noting that the YMCA court hosts most of the Ugandan basketball league games.
 “It’s hard to play on that slippery surface, especially when it rains. You play while holding back. The areas next to the hoops (basketball goals) are also very dangerous. I just hope something is done fast before a player gets a bad injury,” Lamunu says.

“Simplicity and congeniality are precepts I live by. God exalts the humble so I try to stay humble on and off the court, even with my accomplishments. I should not have two totally opposing and conflicting personalities because of this game. I will not play the game for the rest of my life. It will stop at some point,” Lamunu says.

Lamunu was born in Gulu on the 24th December 1993 to George Ocaya and Laruni Filder Ocaya.

“I had a normal childhood. My parents have always been very supportive and encouraging especially as regards my decision to play basketball. They were both sports people in their younger years,” Lamunu says.

Lamunu attended St Kizito primary school in Bugolobi.
Thereafter she joined St Angella Primary school in Kisaasi.
For her O and A levels, Lamunu joined Mt St Mary’s College Namagunga.
She subsequently joined Makerere University.
Lamunu recently got a scholarship to go study in the United States.


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