May 22, 2008
Fare thee well, OKs!
Wilbrod Okecho, a basketball icon in Uganda died on May 14, aged 28

By John Vianney Nsimbe

Sadolin Power’s Wilbrod Okecho will always be in the folklore of Ugandan basketball greats and remembered for his nice and warm demeanour towards all that he met.

A son of MP William Okecho (West Budama county North) and Helen Okecho, Wilbrod was born on October 9, 1979 as the forth born of eight. The brother he follows, Frederick died when they were young. For a big and tall man, he was a classy player with good dribbling and passing skill in his repertoire. Dislodging opposing defences wasn’t a problem and neither was picking baskets in double figures from a lay-up, rebound or three-point shot.

His presence in the opponents defence was always considered a burden. As hard as it was to take the ball from him, so was going past him. He was called a ‘round-about’- meaning that you had to go round him if you were to get a scoring chance. Others called him the ‘thwart master’ who foiled attacking opponents.

He was largely regarded one of the best post-players to have graced the game here, and one of the most popular ones. Superlatives like talented or skilful just didn’t fit his billing much, thus the nickname ‘Teddy Bear’ or TB, big Aristotle and man of steel.

Okecho’s presence had it that the team Power was described as Okecho’s Sadolin Power and the rest yet there were more senior players he found there. Peter Mubanda his former coach at Power once said: “Okecho is money in the bank.”
Such was his dominance that he and the likes of Marvin Keronga, Isaac Mawiwi, Isaac Afidra, Steven Sengooba, Elliot Bagenda, Ivan Lukyamuzi and Charlie Baryamujura inspired Power to its only league championship in 2000. It was then that Okecho made a statement of his arrival on the national basketball scene.

He also won the award of the most valuable player (MVP) that year. Keronga said, “He was the best player then. We left Falcons for dead 3-0 because he bamboozled them.”
From that time on, Okecho dominated the headlines compelling many basketball fans into arguments and counter debates on who was better: him or Stephen Omony at Falcons.

But in a pre-season training, he injured his knee; was in a cast and didn’t play in 2001. Power relinquished the title to Sky-Jammers of the Blick brothers.
Raymond Kasaija, a fan and friend said: “You would have expected him to grow wings once he became the talk on court. But he was always meek and friendly.”
The thing about Okecho, for the years God gave him, he left an impression wherever he was - accommodating everyone regardless of status. His voice was unique and stuck in your mind.

“This is the kind of guy you would find chatting with a security guard or [joking with] a pump attendant,” said team-mate Julius Wapera. His cousin, Jennifer Ochwo said that in the village, he had friends all over.
“In St. Savio Primary School, Kisubi, the guy befriended even the cooks and while the rest of you couldn’t be favoured to get the best beef or more posho, he did,” said his school-mate Simon Ssenyonjo.

But it comes with the territory. Wapera said that OKs was a loved fellow because he did the things that elated people. He played almost every sport and was the school’s goal-keeper from about Primary 5.
In Primary 7 he was voted the school’s head-boy. He did the role diligently. His class work greatly backed his status, as he bagged aggregate five in his Primary Leaving Exams in 1991.

He joined St. Mary’s College Kisubi. There was a time when he concentrated on developing his basketball skills though he also occasionally played rugby.

During his time, Kisubi’s basketball team was a force to reckon with. “You would just pray that OKs wasn’t on it because he punished other schools on court. One time in 1996, there was a schools’ championship in Jinja and when we saw the Kisubi team on court without him, we were happy because we felt we could beat them then. You can imagine we had Norman Blick on our team but we still feared him,” said Justus Mugisha a basketball coach at Crane High.
Simon Ndawula, Okecho’s former team-mate and school-mate at Power and Kisubi respectively said that OKs was a junior player but his speedy development made him indispensable. Ssenyonjo added that while the rest of them were victimised by the school-prefects, Okecho had some sort of immunity.

“Not that he was undisciplined but even when he erred like the rest of us, he walked off scot-free like a king. They glorified him.” Ndawula said. “I was his captain and senior at school but he was invaluable and more acclaimed than even his seniors on the team.”
In his senior one, he led his class team on an away tie against St. Charles Lwanga Kasasa, Masaka’s senior one team. He bamboozled the home team that had one of his good friends - Dennis Enabu, Mark Enabu’s older brother.
Born in a Catholic family, he normally spoke about God and how He has made him what he is. He occasionally prayed from Christ the King Church but more at Kampala Pentecostal Church (KPC).

“OKs used to encourage us to pay our tithe and even lead inspiring team prayers,” said Wapera.
Keronga said: “His shift to the Pentecostal side happened in 1999. He used to like the praise and worship on Sunday at 12p.m but also his girlfriend Jackie Chemisto whom he met at Makerere University seven years ago influenced him to be a regular church goer at KPC.”
Being a lovable guy and talismanic sportsman, the ladies surely slobbered over Okecho but he was a faithful guy, says Mark Enabu.

He was a guy who was friendly to the ladies but was principled and always advocated a one-woman relationship. “Okecho used to tell us that Chemisto was special because she stood by him when he was a nobody at Makerere University. That’s why he loved her wholly,” said Wapera. Okecho and Chemisto’s love affair had seen them live together in Najeera, Ntinda. His weakness however was that he was so daring and adventurous. Though his Dad didn’t really like him playing basketball at first; he went on. He also drove his Dad’s car out when he was in S4 without a driving permit and crashed it according to Valery, his sibling, the Sanyu FM presenter. Apparently two cars around Lugogo by-pass knocked him and his Dad had to foot both his car repair bill and that of the other drivers.
His Dad had bailed him from Jinja road Police and was grounded but Oks exiled himself from home for a month.
They had a daughter together in February this year and Okecho was already in high gear to wed his beloved in October around his birthday but his introduction in Kapchorwa was slated for August, said Keronga.

“I remember the time OKs met Jackie. He phoned me while I was in Nkrumah Hall and he told me he had met this beautiful chick that he knew was meant for him.”
He told Keronga that no matter what happened it was Jackie all the way. “When they had fights, he’d call me to talk to her. It was an attention thing. She normally asked him why he was always with the boys and less with her.” Okecho had to give her more time but one reason he said he loved her so much was that she made him laugh.

A person with a big heart, OKs made Sadolin Power a family. He normally would hang out at Steak Out, Cheese Bar and Zanzi.

He loved his pork, cow hooves (emolokony) and beer.
“Yes we were born-again Christians but the Bible didn’t say you mustn’t take alcohol,” Keronga said. Also, Okecho loved swimming, going to the beach to eat fish and watching every blockbuster at Cineplex Cinema.
He loved Manchester United, Brazil and Shaquille O’Neill, the NBA Phoenix Suns star basketball player.
He loved any type of music but one song stood out for him: Everywhere by LNM Projekt.

“Okecho would call you whenever it played on Radio One to listen to it. He also liked Sanyu FM,” said Keronga.
At Makerere University, he did a Bachelors of Social Sciences majoring in Political Science.
In 2003 he started working for the Electoral Commission until his death.

Okecho survived the bullet he took on March 12 but then his blood conspired to kill him in form of a blood clot.
“It is hard to take and my life and that of Power will never be the same without OKs. At least if he had died from the gunshot but not medical negligence at Mulago hospital. A man is with you for two months and you can’t take precautions against blood clots?” Keronga rapped.
It was a normal day on May 14 with Okecho full of life and awaiting his discharge slip after a final check-up. Jackie had already sent an email to Keronga reading: “I can’t wait to have OKs back!”

Okecho played a video game that day with friends who had come to visit him: Barnes Ankunda and Alexander Kasendwa.
But at 3p.m he started feeling chest pains, which were taken lightly. At 5p.m he started gasping for air and the medics moved frantically in search of oxygen, which was unavailable on the whole floor until he had to be rushed three floors down to get oxygen. The lifts failed and he had to be carried down to Intensive Care Unit.

He died at 7:30p.m. Omen continues to befall Sadolin Power. They lost Chris Kamanyire to a gunshot a few years ago and other gallant servants in: Peter Ojok, Willy Nyeko and earlier this year, Jordan Abola.

The shirt number eleven OKs wore has been retired from Power and his jersey was placed in his grave autographed by those that played with him. A memorial tournament will be held each year and the proceeds will go to his daughter and girlfriend according to Keronga.
Keronga who flew in from Canada to bury his buddy believes OKs will come back.

Okecho’s famous quote was: “Just give me the ball and we’ll win.” That won’t happen again. Adieu OKs!