Masaku Sparks is arguably one of the teams with the most intriguing stories in Kenyan basketball in the recent times. The then star-studded team was formed under the umbrella of the Machakos County, a move that saw it begin its trade at the premier league level. It was perhaps a smart yet controversial move on the management’s part considering the fact that newly built teams would more commonly start from a lower league.
Focused on empowering the girl child through sports, the “Machakos based” side went on to recruit a good number of skilled players in its first year in the league, young and experienced alike. These, with the help of coach Abel Nson ensured that the team had a satisfactory run in the regular season, securing itself a spot in the playoffs. Going into the playoffs at position eight is never a good thing, as the team would come to realize. Its playoffs run was short-lived, having met and lost to the then defending champions USIU Flames, each game a thrill and close call. For Masaku, this was unexpected with the caliber of players it had acquired; Betty Kananu, currently holding the title for Most Defensive Player in the women’s premier league, former national team Captain Silalei Owuor, Felmas Koranga, one of the best post players in the league, just to name a few. The team could have had a deeper run. One admirable thing about the team was their commitment in rallying up support for their games through social media and word of mouth. It is not easy trying to cultivate a widening fan-base that really cares about women’s basketball.
Losing its key players at the beginning of the 2016 season was unfortunate for the young team. While it was able to rebuild and add in some big names including the highly talented Nigeria based Linet Atieno of Dophins, their input was just not enough. The exit of the head coach at the end of the first leg added to the misfortune. This and reappearance of the team in more moderate tones sent the basketball fraternity into a tailspin of speculation. Having been with the team for only a little over a year, this was an unfortunate case of terrible timing. The mass exodus thereafter was not only unique to the team but also a behavior that had more than a hint of hypocrisy. At this point, solace would be in its newly formed Masaku Sparklets, featuring in the Nairobi Basketball Association league. While giving an opportunity to more younger players the team seemed a more stable and promising side. As for Sparks, circumstances saw them finish at the bottom at the end of the 2016 season, and was therefore relegated to Division One.
Relegation is a humbling experience. On the bright side, it gives a team the ability to go back to the drawing board and correct past mistakes. Being a more experienced side at that level, the team continues to perform exceptionally well game after game, besides facing the usual self-sponsored team challenges of finances, coaching and proper training.
As far as achievements go, since its inception the team has played its part in encouraging ladies participation in basketball. From the various CSR activities, the team has organized and been involved in, lives have been impacted or changed in one way or another. To crown these, Sparks is dominating the Division One league, sitting on top of the table. All factors considered, this was obviously not where a super team would have wanted to be in its third year of existence. Firstly, building a team with limited finances has on numerous instances proven difficult.
In Masaku’s case one would be forgiven to think that the idea behind its name and parent county was so as to take advantage of Machakos County Government sponsorship. Whether this has been achieved or not remains unconfirmed but what’s evident is the major difference between the team and entity sponsored ones in terms of training facilities, player allowances and availability of a technical bench. Secondly, the team has lost a number of really talented and experienced players who would have otherwise made a great difference. So, is it a success so far?
We can all agree that building a team is not easy. This would explain why the KPA ladies team, even with the best of players has not won the title yet recently. It takes patience, commitment, discipline and work. Starting from the bottom is a sacrifice we all despise yet could be fruitful. Nothing good comes easy. In reflecting on Masaku’s case, we are seeking not so much to condemn their journey but to be inspired by their future.