After 18 years of sporting, Alando is far from done

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020 00:00 |
Olando and her coach David Maina. Photo/PD/RODGERS NDEGWA

 Equity Hawks Big Man talks of a basketball career  that has pushed her into changing clubs in search of success, resilience and how coronavirus disrupted her 14-year restaurant business. 

“I am still in the game. Once the floodlights come on, my shoes will be strapped and I will be on the court doing what I do best. I still have a couple of championships in me.” 

These are the sentiments of Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) women’s league veteran ‘Big Man’ Linda Alando who was part of Equity Bank Hawks’ squad that has bagged back-to-back championships in the last two seasons. 

Alando joined Hawks in 2017 from Masaku Sparks just as the bankers were beefing up the squad that has dominated the women’s league, winning the 2018 and 2019 titles.

The jump-off of the delayed 2020 season, due to the outbreak of the Covid-19, will be her 18th year in the Premier League. 

Unlike her nickname ‘Majik’, nothing has come to her magically. She has had to toil hard to become one of the best in the sport. The same resilience can also be attributed to her running a successful hotel for 14 years. 

When she is not training, you will find her busy in the kitchen at her Upper Hill-based ‘Black Parrot’ restaurant.

However, Covid-19 has hit her hard as it affected her two main sources of livelihood. But her resilience saw her find a way to weather the storm while at the same time keeping fit as she awaits the return of basketball. 

“At 19, I took interest in helping my mother at her restaurant and by the time I was 22, the operations of the family business had been left to me and I never looked back.

Linda Olando and Equity Hawks team-mates after winning the 2019 Premier League title. Photo/PD/RODGERS NDEGWA

The current shutdowns and ban on gatherings due to the virus has affected my business.

I have had to rotate my staff because I do not believe sacking them will do any good. My daily turnover has declined by close to 60 percent,” Alando told People Sport in Nairobi yesterday. 

The lanky basketballer says she noticed,  at a young age, that she is more of a people person and loved being on the move so sitting behind a desk and a routine job were not her thing.

“I learned all I could from my mother in the kitchen and settled for the business.

I love exploring in the kitchen, experimenting with spices and ingredients and getting feedback from patrons,” adds Alando, who has on several occasions catered for the basketball national teams while in training or competition at Nyayo Stadium.  

Her basketball journey, like that of many athletes, can be traced back to Mua Girls High School in Machakos County where it took the effort of veteran referee Albanus Mala, who was the basketball coach, and her then games captain Rebecca Sarange (currently an Eagle Wings player and the the Kenya Defence Forces women’s netball team head coach) to get into basketball. 

“I hated sports in high school but today I can thank Sarange for introducing me to the game. She adored my height but I was hard headed and I preferred her punishments to stepping on the court. 

However, her consistency in punishing me for not turning up for training finally got to me and I opted to learn the game.

Coach Mala was also instrumental in changing my mindset that basketball was a ‘rich kids’ sport and converted my passion for football into a love for basketball,” Alando explains adding that her athleticism saw her try every sport in high school but for volleyball.

Fitness enthusiast

From an athletic child who was a sprints and long races favourite at Loreto Convent Valley Road primary school, taking after her mother, a fitness enthusiast, transformed Alando into an excellent basketballer at Mua. 

She made her debut in the KBF Premier League in 2003 with Ulinzi and never looked back. 

However, she played for just one year before the military side was disbanded and that is when Sprite Storms came calling.

She played for them from 2004 to 2008, an experience that gave her the fun of playing basketball. 

Thirst for growth pushed her to ditch the Ben Oluoch-coached Storms for Abel Nson’s Eastern Queens where she stayed for a season before moving to Yana Tyres for another season.

In 2011, she reconnected with Nson at Co-operative Bank’s Kingdom Queens, where they reached the semis for three consecutive season’s,  until she left for Mombasa-based Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) in 2014. 

At KPA,  they lost twice in the final to United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa). 

Her urge to lift the coveted title saw Alando move again,  this time to Masaku Sparks where Nson was also in charge. 

Her stay was, however, short-lived as she jumped ship to join the Equity where her desire for silverware was finally fulfilled in 2018 when coach David Maina guided Hawks to their second and third titles in a row.  

Big break

“At Ulinzi I was a rookie so I never really got much play time. The trend continued at Storms. I got my big break while in an international tournament in Tanzania with Storms.

Stella Opondo,  the first choice big man, fell sick and I had to step in. It is from that tournament that the name ‘majik’ was coined as I had magical post moves that no one had thought I could manage,” she reminisces. 

But while she has respect for all her tacticians,  it is coach Nson that Alando says transformed her game and made her believe in herself.  

“With storms, we won the Abe Lincoln tournament in Uganda. We were also finalist in 2007 against KPA.

Coach Oluoch powered me up to a lethal big man. His training was intense and always reminded us if we were tired then our opponent should be dead. We definitely gave the big teams a run for their money.” 

She continued: “Eastern Queens was a different ball game. It was competitive, intense, fiery and fun too.

Nson is an incredible coach. The moves he made us do were mainly in a quest for growth.

He pushed and trained us hard and ended up transforming me into a power forward, a position I never thought I could play.

He believed in me and despite my defiance and reluctance, he pushed and worked me hard to a point where I could play a position I only talked about but never envisaged playing in. It was also through him that I was able to get a national team call-up.” 

While she made the Intercities team from 2004 to 2007, her first national team call-up came in 2008.

Ever since, she has made the provisional squad six times and made the cut thrice. Her most memorable outing in the national colours is the trip to Maputo, Mozambique for the 2011 All Africa Games.

Competitive tournament

“I have never played in such a competitive tournament in my life. It was a big deal for me and it brought mixed feelings.

While we did not perform as expected, I got an experience many only wish for,” she says.

She singles out three clubs, Storms, Eastern Queens and Hawks as where she had her best basketball experiences so far.

At Storms, she got a chance to have fun and learn the sport while Queens transformed and grew her career.  The two, however, cannot compare to becoming a multiple champion with Hawks.  

“I may not have as many personal accolades but I take pride in those I won as part of a team because they not only remind me of the journey but show that I can be part of a big picture.

It is all about working together and shining together. This journey has given me a lot and I look forward to what the future holds,” she adds.  

Among her personal accolades is an All Star Most Valuable Player title in 2007 and the best three-point shooter in 2018. 

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