JOHANNESBURG – Liz Mills in addition to becoming the first woman to coach a senior men’s national basketball team with Kenya, the accomplished coach also led her side to qualification for the AfroBasket (African Basketball Championship) for the first time in 28 years.
Last month, Kenya beat Angola 74-73 to book their ticket to the 2021 edition of the AfroBasket.
Angola are 11-time winners of the AfroBasket and were 32nd in the world rankings – 83 spots above Kenya at 115th – when the game was played.
Such was the significance of the result, the Kenyan government hailed the success of the team led by the Australian Mills.
Kenya’s performance under Mills has come at a time when, among world basketball priorities for 2019 to 2023, is to have more ‘women in basketball’ and to ‘develop and leverage elite competitors and coaches.’
There are undoubtedly more female coaches out there, women that would be good fits and great leaders for men’s national teams. If federations haven’t considered this, they should.
Kenya did win one of their three games in the November window of the AfroBasket 2021 qualifiers, beating Mozambique, but the Morans coach, Cliff Owuor, wasn’t available for the February window in Yaounde, Cameroon.
Kenya had actually expressed an interest in Mills being involved with the team before the November window.
Mills has experience of working in African basketball dating back more than a decade. She has worked as a consultant, but has also coached various teams, including the Patriots in the Rwanda top flight, while also serving as an assistant coach for the Zambia and Cameroon national teams.
In January, she took the helm of Kenya and after being appointed, she told The Big Tip Off, “they can play so much better than what they did in November.”
Mills prepared Kenya, who hadn’t made it to the AfroBasket for nearly 30 years, for games against Senegal, Angola and Mozambique.
The signs were there that Mills was going to make a difference when Kenya hit the court on February 19 for the game against Senegal, who had won the first meeting, 92-54.
Kenya were organised and intense. They led 31-27 at half-time, only for Senegal to raise their own intensity in the second half before pulling away for a 69-51 victory. Mills said after that her team would learn from the experience and get better, and they did.
The following day, Angola, a team Kenya had never beaten, had a double-digit lead early in the second half yet the Morans stormed back to take the lead, only for Angola’s Alexandre Jungo to bury a go-ahead three-ball to make it 73-72 with 23 seconds left.
Mills put the ball in Tylor Ongwae’s hands, had her other players spread out on the court, and let the captain go to work. Ongwae dribbled in, stopped with one foot on the three-point arc and drilled a jumper for a 74-73 Kenya win.
Mozambique beat Kenya the following day, 71-44, but that took none of the shine off the Morans’ performance in Cameroon for a candid Mills.
“I haven’t seen that kind of basketball in Africa for 10 years, where it’s all physical and not a lot of skill involved,” she said. “As you can see, we can compete against the better teams who play a more international style of basketball, higher skill set.”
African News Agency (ANA)