Shorter-than-normal Ugandan basketballer

I always watch students practise at the Uganda Christian University (UCU) basketball court every evening while returning office keys to the nearby Main Gate in Mukono.

My interest in the game peaked when I watched the shortest player on the team dribbling the ball, gripping it firmly in his hands while smartly ducking to dodge his tall 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 seemed like they were 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 was most common among the youths of Uganda. 

One of his coaches, Zayed Yahaya, approached him about shifting his skill to basketball. Zayed nudged until Fayed joined in Senior Three. 

Fayed said his coach’s persistence was so overwhelming that he would “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. 

 “My parents tasked the teachers at school to punish me if they ever find me on court, but they did not,” Fayed said. 

He later developed the love for the game and started to play with the NBA Junior League where the team won the NBA Junior League in 2015. Today, he is playing for the UCU Canons which is registered under the umbrella of the Federation of Uganda Basketball Association (FUBA).

Though he loves the game, his height 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 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 the National Basketball Association honours in the United States. Curry is taller from a sports family with a role model sports father and basketball-playing brother and volleyball-playing sister. Curry is a decade older than 19-year-old Fayed, the firstborn of seven children. Yet, the California basketball star serves as an inspiration for the younger and shorter Ugandan. 

Basketball began in 1963 in Uganda. It was registered under the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and since then, it has grown to more than 12 national teams. 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 Bachelor’s degree in Human Rights, Peace and Humanitarian Interventions at UCU.