In his youthful days he never imagined that someday in the future he would become a star and an inspiration to many. Least in his dreams there never was a moment when he envisioned himself travelling the world primarily because of his sportsmanship.
Meet Peter Kiganya, a Kenyan professional basketball player now retired with a shift to coaching, mentoring, teaching basketball and involved in serious sports academic research. Domiciled in the US, Kiganya is more concerned with sports policy and the academics of the game.
Currently, he is the Graduate Assistant Coach at Angelo State University (ASU). For well over two decades he has seen it all in basketball and the memories flood back as fresh as if some of the action he has seen and experienced while on the pitch happened yesterday.
And it is this expertise of over 20 years that he plans to share and give back to Kenyan and African youth. “Just the exposure I have gotten to the game, I have played basketball in three continents with very different styles of play,” Kiganya says and hastens to add: “I played for many coaches all with very different philosophies, attended many basketball camps as a player and as a coach.
This gives me a very unique perspective of the game in Kenya and how the Kenyan players and game can grow by drawing from my experiences.” In his heyday Kiganya was nicknamed “Leon Africano” by the South American press where he dribbled his skills in Chile.
Other than Chile Kiganya’s fast pace, blistering surges over opponents and a formidable presence saw him outgrow the Kenyan Basketball Premier league and ply his skills in far off Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and even the US.
He has elaborate plans to give back to the Kenyan game and help bolster basketball structure basically, progressive learning of the game and life skills. Kiganya says: “Have a long-term development plan for players and the biggest thing is giving hope, hope of a better tomorrow, better facilities and a better life.”
In his teenage years at Eastleigh Kiganya had to contend with many in the school who were also pretty much talented but his desire to excel has never been diminished. “I have always had the drive to excel in anything I do, and the more I did not play at Eastleigh Boys High School, the more I challenged myself to become a better player. It was frustrating to me to be wearing a red jersey while the team wore blue.
That meant there was no possibility of me playing,” he says. “Being at Eastleigh High School was a blessing to me, I got so see guys like Peter ‘Kalulu’ Otieno, David Maina and Opondo playing for club teams and yet they were in school. They would go on trips to Mombasa and play at the Nyayo gymnasium and back then you just didn’t go and play there if you didn’t have game,” Kiganya recalls.
“Basketball was something I did with other things like choir, traditional dance, Scouting, First Aid Club with St Johns Ambulance. I did not make the school team until my junior year, so I had the opportunity to put in work and become better without the pressure of performing,” he adds.
When he settled for basketball his retinue of new idols to admire changed to basketball greats both local and international. They include Scottie Pippen, Dikembe Mutombo, Michael Jordan, and Kenyan greats Lawi Odera and Ronnie Owino. Of his time on the pitch Kiganya has so much memory.
One of them however stands out. “Wow, I have been part of many memorable games and tournaments, but I think to me the most memorable one is watching for the first time in Kenya, a live game on TV against Co-op Bank and Posta and Ronnie hitting a three-point buzzer beater from half court and the same week he came to Mombasa and hit the same shot at Mombasa Baptist against the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) team.”
Apart from dominating the local scene Kiganya had a stint with the national team at the continental level, which exposed him even further as he got a chance to play with Africa’s best. Chance encounters he still recalls to this day. In Africa, Kiganya admires the continental basketball powerhouse Angola.
According to Kiganya the fluid and thrilling Angolan style boosted by team spirit and discipline of play have been the key pillars for their success and major factors why the Lusophone nation has conquered the continent for decades.
Kiganya’s admiration is not just on Angola as a nation but cascades downwards to the clubs, an indication of his keen interest on how stars are hewn. When asked the club he admires the most, he doesn’t hesitate. “Club would be Primero Augusto and National team would be Angola,” he says.
“They have been the dominating sides in African basketball for a while and the organisation and professionalism they have displayed whenever they play I haven’t seen it anywhere else in Africa.” However Kiganya’s big break came from an unlikely opportunity, which he grabbed wholly.
For close to a decade after high school Kiganya would become a semi-professional in the national league and also got the coveted opportunity to play for the national team. His basketball wizardry would also see his skills being tested for a Hollywood movie.
Kiganya was a finalist in Kevin Bacon’s $17 million movie The Air Up There which saw him travel to the US for the first time in 1992. Five years later he was awarded a basketball scholarship to travel to the US thanks in large measure to Coach Tony Mauldin. Frank Borger Junior College, in Borger, Texas was his first stop.
“Yes I got a scholarship to play junior college basketball and after that I got another one to attend Abilene Christian University for three years,” says Kiganya. While at Abilene, Kiganya honed his skills at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II league and becoming one of the most successful Kenyans in US college basketball averaging 19.8 points per game.
After ACU, Kiganya turned professional in South America. his legendary status in Chile. From Chile, Kiganya’s next stop was in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he played for Club Welcome. Last year Kiganya represented Kenya at the 8th International Coaching Enrichment Certificate Programme (ICECP) held in the US.
It is in pursuit of these coaching programmes that Kiganya has been test-running basketball clinics in several Kenyan schools with elaborate plans to set up a thriving basketball academy. Other than his philanthropic ventures he recently graduated with a Master of Education in Coaching, Sport, Recreation and Fitness Instruction.
“It’s time for the government to establish this centers that are provided for by the Sports Act and Vision 2030 in every county and not only focus on sports such as athletics, rugby, soccer and volleyball, but all sports. Kenyans can also participate and win in other events for instance Julius Yego in Javelin and Nicholas Bett in the 400 Meter hurdles which are none traditional events for Kenyans.”
Kiganya says and appeals for concerted efforts to build Kenya’s sports base. “Let’s put in place talent ID structures and after identifying the talent lets nurture it at these centers. As a country we should also celebrate all achievements of Kenyans in sports where they represented Kenya well.
If we have more heroes in sports the youth will have more role models from different fields that they can look up to. If a child cannot excel in soccer guess what then there is another hero they can look up to who runs track and so on.”
Kiganya’s final challenge is appealing to the country’s sports administrators to change their mindset on sports. “We should change our outlook on sports as a hindrance to academics and view sports also as a vehicle that can be used to motivate children excel in education.” He says.