Author name: Sindiswa Mabunda

Avid fan of basketball. Former Wits University basketball player and contributor on The Big Tip Off.

Eke banks on Hoopers’ BAL run to lift image of Nigerian basketball

FOLLOWING the Rivers Hoopers’ BAL third-place final game win against the Cape Town Tigers, which earned them a podium finish, the post-game press conference started unconventionally.

Guard Devine Eke initiated his own press conference while waiting for coach Ogoh Odaudu to emerge from the locker room with his Coach of the Year trophy. He posed questions to the media for about 2 minutes before jokingly concluding the short proceedings, saying he should stop before he gets into trouble upon Odaudu’s return.

Eke’s energetic presence provided insight into the team dynamic, balanced by a laid-back atmosphere and mutual respect. This has defined the team’s DNA in the Cinderella story for the Rivers Hoopers this season.

In an interview with The Big Tip Off, Eke discussed his initial impressions of the league and the team’s goal for the season.

Devine Eke at the BAL
Devine Eke led the Hoopers to a third-place finish in Season 4 of the BAL. Picture: The BAL and X Ball

Eke, who joined the team in February, admitted he was initially sceptical about the readiness of the league. However, after having a superb BAL tournament, he acknowledged his misconceptions about the BAL were incorrect.

“I didn’t think the BAL was ready yet, but man, I was wrong. This league is amazing, and I love it. I’ve met so many great people. My expectations were wrong. Everyone who told me to come was 100% right… I’m happy I listened to those who advised me.”

Hoopers, returning to the BAL since last appearing in 2021, wanted to shift how Nigerian basketball is viewed, especially after the national team’s dismal performance in the first round of AfroBasket qualifiers in February.

“The goal coming here was changing the narrative of our country’s basketball. We want the next time a Nigerian team comes here to believe they can do what Rivers Hoopers did or even better.”

From the first game, it was evident that it was a different team. Over and above the obvious changes made to the roster and additions to the coaching staff, there was a strong sense of unity that is often scarce amongst teams in this competition.

 

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Eke, who made the All-BAL Second team, pointed to chemistry and a selfless desire to win, as the North Star that guided them to their Cinderella run.

“I think our team chemistry is one of a kind. From the local players to import players, everybody had the same goal. So when you have a team that has the same goal, it’s easy to bond, it’s easy to win, it’s easy to just be successful,” said Eke.

“Everyone had the same goal of winning, nobody cared about scoring. Nobody cared about their minutes. Nobody cared about rebounds or assists. We all just came together as a collective and wanted to win. And that made it easy.”

This unity began at the top, from the coaching staff and management led by Odaudu. From the outside looking in, it would have been easy to perceive Odaudu’s impact on the team as purely tactical. But to Eke, his coach had a far-reaching effect. Each player was encouraged to keep taking shots and find the open man, whether they had a lead they were trying to maintain or cut down on one.

“He gave us confidence and faith, and he believed in us. There were a lot of times during the games – obviously, you guys don’t see it… But there’s been a lot of times during the games when guys had their heads down, even myself, but the way he encouraged us was just tremendous,” explained Eke. “Having coaches that encourage you and don’t just bring you down because you’re missing shots or bench you when you turn the ball over, that’s something really big.”

Devine Eke believes the best of Rivers Hoopers is still to come.

After the Hoopers lost to Al Ahly Benghazi in the semi-finals, they identified the key areas that needed to improve to clinch a podium finish.

“I think we improved our rebounding and limited our turnovers. When we look at the games we lost, it’s because of rebounding and turnovers. And when we focused on that, we could win,” said Eke. “We focused on ourselves, we wanted to keep having fun. You know, from the beginning like, the reason why we were winning was because everyone was having fun. Everyone was touching the ball, everyone was swinging a ball, everyone was scoring, and our bench was going crazy. So we just wanted to keep the same mindset that we had in Dakar.”

Reflecting on his BAL debut, Eke says the tournament has improved his skill level and raised his stock.

“There is a lot of amazing talent in this league, everybody is strong, skilful and physical. This helped me because I had to really think the game through. There are a lot of great players coached by great coaches and this helped my game a lot,” said Eke.

He also hopes the Hoopers will improve on this season’s BAL performance.

“We just want to grow from this season. See what we did wrong, what we did right and just keep striving for greatness,” said Eke. “The main goal is to come back next year. We want to put Hoopers somewhere special. This year we finished third, but we want to be able to win the BAL.”

The Rivers Hoopers’ goal for next season is ambitious but achievable. With no back-to-back champions yet, three new teams in this year’s semi-finals, a team from the Road to The BAL making it to the finals and the crowning of a new champion, the evidence is clear that the championship is anyone’s for the taking.

Eke banks on Hoopers’ BAL run to lift image of Nigerian basketball Read More »

Petro’s BAL triumph opens a new chapter for Angolan basketball

(KIGALI) The Petro de Luanda team woke up on Sunday with that championship feeling. They will head home to Angola, knowing they are Africa’s number 1 club. After three frustrating years of consistently finishing in the top four in the BAL, winning the continental title at the fourth attempt, in Season 4 of the competition must be extra sweet for Petro.

The Os Tricolores secured a thrilling 107-94 victory over Al Ahly Benghazi, who made BAL history by becoming the first Road to BAL team to make it to the final.

Losing coach Ivan Jermic of Al Ahly praised his team’s effort and acknowledged Petro’s superior defence. “They played a really good game tonight (Saturday). We were in the game for the first three quarters but they played good defence. They pushed us away from the basket and gave themselves opportunities to score on fast breaks,” Jermic reflected. “My players gave the maximum but tonight Petro won.”

Childe Dundao at the BAL
Childe Dundao played his part in Petro’s successful BAL Season 4 campaign. Picture: BAL

The Serbian acknowledged the significance of their journey, “For Al Ahly, this is a big deal. This is the first time they have played in this kind of competition. This is good quality basketball, the organization is really good. We are happy that this kind of competition exists. I believe Africa will be exciting in the next 20 years,” Jermic stated.

Standout performances from key players drove Petro’s victory. Nicholas Faust was exceptional, scoring 27 points, while Markeith Cummings added 20 points, demonstrating his leadership on and off the court. “I was one of the leaders in the locker room and our main thing was to always stay confident and together whether we are down 30 or 40. Just believe in each other and we showed it,” Cummings stated.

Reflecting on the depth of Petro’s roster, Cummings added, “Our bench – we have a lot of guys so we can go up to the ninth or tenth man in the rotation and I think they go up to four or five and that’s about it. So we used all our firepower.”

Petro’s captain, Carlos Morais, expressed his pride in the team’s achievement. “This means everything to us. We’ve been trying to get this trophy for four years. And to get it now, it means a lot not just for Petro but for Angolan basketball. Now we see hope at the end of the tunnel. Next year Angola is going to host the AfroBasket, so winning this trophy means a lot for everybody,” Morais shared.

 

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Reflecting on their journey and the impact of former coach Neto, he explained, “I’m never gonna compare coaches and philosophies, but I’m gonna take this moment to thank Coach Neto for everything he did for us because he is part of what just happened. He is part of the group that we have. He is the one who put everything together.”

Jo Acuil, who won the Defensive Player of the Year, the Scoring Title, and the Most Valuable Player awards, spoke about his mixed emotions.

“I think I am gonna need a couple of days to process the impact of what really just happened. Obviously, the emotions are still very raw after the loss. I lost in game 5 in Australia as well, so it has been disappointing and that is all I can think about now,” Acuil said. “As far as what I have won? They hold significance but I am naturally a winner, and very competitive so I would give away all three of these to get the main trophy because as much as anything, I know what it meant to me, what it would have meant for Libya but the people of South Sudan as well.”

Jo Acuil in action at the BAL
Jo Acuil won individual honours, MVP and top scorer at the BAL despite Al Ahly’s loss to Petro.

Yanick Moreira emphasized the importance of teamwork and resilience in their victory. “I don’t know if you remember but last time I was here after we lost. And I have seen many faces who thought we were done. All we did was talk in the locker room because we knew we weren’t playing our basketball but when we started the third quarter – we made some stops and we kept running and that is how we won,” Moreira explained.

He also highlighted the significance of the win for Angola. “It means a lot for our country. We haven’t played great basketball – we have been coming for four years straight and many people were saying that Angolan basketball is done. So, we have done this for our country.”

As Petro de Luanda celebrates their hard-fought victory, they look forward to future challenges with renewed confidence and determination. The triumph marks a milestone for the team and the start of a new era for Angolan basketball.

Petro’s BAL triumph opens a new chapter for Angolan basketball Read More »

BAL Season 4 Final: Who will have the edge? Petro or Al Ahly

(KIGALI) The final game of the BAL will see Petro de Luanda and Al Ahly Libya battle it out for the championship. Both teams demonstrated exceptional skill and determination in their semi-final victories.

Petro de Luanda:

Path to Semi-Finals: Petro secured a narrow 66-65 win against AS Douanes in the quarter-finals, showcasing their resilience and ability to perform under pressure. Nicholas Faust’s clutch three-pointer in the final seconds was crucial to their victory.

Semi-Final Recap: Petro showcased their depth and tactical acumen, in their semi-final battle victory over Cape Town Tigers. Despite a back-and-forth battle, Petro’s Nicholas Faust hit crucial three-pointers in the second quarter to build a lead. The Tigers fought back to tie the game and force overtime, but Petro outscored them 19-9 in the extra period, securing a 96-86 win.

Carlos Morais BAL final
Carlos Morais will provide experience coming off the bench in today’s final: Pictures: The BAL

Al Ahly Libya:

Path to Semi-Finals: Al Ahly pulled off an upset against defending champions Al Ahly Egypt with an 86-77 victory. Robert Golden’s 23 points, nine assists, and strong performances from Jo Acuil and Majok Deng, were paramount to their success.

Semi-Final Recap: Against the Rivers Hoopers, Al Ahly demonstrated their ability to adapt and overcome adversity. Despite losing an 11-point halftime lead and trailing briefly in the fourth quarter, they rallied to tie the game and push it into overtime. Their composure in the extra period, highlighted by clutch free throws and defensive stops, led to an 89-83 victory.

Key Players to Watch:

Petro de Luanda: Carlos Morais’ leadership and scoring will be critical, and Nicholas Faust’s timely shooting can change the game’s momentum.

Al Ahly Libya: Robert Golden, a key playmaker, and Jo Acuil, whose inside presence can dominate the paint.

Jo Acuiel of Al Ahly Benghazi
Jo Acuil has been phenomenal on the boards and scoring for Al Ahly Benghazi.

Strategic Insights:

Petro de Luanda: Petro needs to maintain their defensive intensity and ensure shooters, like Nicholas Faust, get open looks. Controlling the tempo and limiting turnovers will be crucial.

Al Ahly Libya: Al Ahly must capitalize on their strong inside game and maintain pressure on Petro’s guards. Effective ball distribution and exploiting mismatches can break down Petro’s defence.

Final Thoughts:

The BAL final will be a clash of titans, each vying for the ultimate prize in the BAL trophy. Fans can expect a display of athleticism, and strategy, but most especially of heart as these teams lay it all on the line.

BAL Season 4 Final: Who will have the edge? Petro or Al Ahly Read More »

Morais feels the BAL title is still within his and Petro’s grasp

(KIGALI) Carlos Morais and Petro de Luanda are names synonymous with some of the best basketball on the continent. The veteran guard has had a legendary career spanning over 23 years, and a huge trophy haul.

Despite their impressive achievements, Morais and Petro have yet to add the BAL trophy to their collection. However, this could change as Petro gears up to compete against Al Ahly Benghazi in the highly anticipated BAL final on Saturday.

Leading up to the finals, The Big Tip Off interviewed the Angolan legend and team captain, Morais. The former Angolan international discussed his evolving role at Petro and what it would be like to win the championship ahead of the big game.

Ahead of the Kalahari Conference, Petro set themselves the goal of reaching the final. While achieving this goal has been satisfying, the journey has been challenging.

“It feels great because our main goal was to be in the finals. The season didn’t start in the way we wanted, we lost a few games down the road, but I’m happy we accomplished the main goal.”

Carlos Morais knows the window is closing on his desire to win the BAL title. Pictures: The BTO

Petro suffered three defeats this season. Their losses to FUS Rabat and Cape Town Tigers during the Kalahari Conference were because of a lack of preparation. Petro also struggled to find their identity on both ends of the floor. As a result, they resembled a shell of the strong team they once knew. The third loss was a buzzer-beater during the seeding games against US Monastir. Since then, Petro has made adjustments and overcome their slump, but the same cannot said of Morais, who has also had some struggles this season.

Morais has been a key player for Petro every year, averaging 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game last season. However, his average has dropped this season. Morais averaged 7.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. He has also come off the bench in recent games, forming part of the second unit. This transition was unexpected for Morais, but he embraces it as his team competes for the title.

“I think everybody knows the type of player I am, and coming into this season, my goal was to play and contribute and help my team reach this goal, which is to be in the finals. Unfortunately, I’m not playing much at this point. But, you know, I can only control what I can control.” said Morais.

Petro has managed the changes well. At the beginning of the season, the team struggled to come up with an answer without Carlos. However, now every player is able and willing to take up the responsibility on any given night. Childe Dundao’s 25-point performance against FUS da Rabat in the Kalahari conference was evidence of this. Most recently, Nicholas Faust’s 23-point performance in the semi-finals also proved a new sense of accountability that has engulfed the Angolan club.

“I think the good thing about it is that this is a team sport. Somebody else had to step up, somebody else is doing what I can’t at this point. And, you know, I’m happy that we’re about to play another final.”

 

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However, Morais has continued to lead and motivate his teammates from the bench during the intense and unpredictable competition in Kigali. Aside from sharpening their tactics, Morais believes that the key to their new cohesion has been embracing a different side of the game – playing with heart.

“I believe basketball has to be played with heart. And we’ve shown that we have a big heart, like in the game against AS Douanes, we were down 20 in the fourth quarter but we came back because we showed everybody the heart that we have, also just staying together as a team.”

Reflecting on their loss to US Monastir in the 2022 final, Morais recalls areas of their game that needed to be improved on, for their fate to change this time around.

“Playing better defence and maintaining our high energy. Playing with high energy is one of the identities of our team. Every time we play with this energy, we always succeed. Just like when we play defence, I mean, it’s almost everything you can ask for when you talk about Petro Because then everything else is gonna come.”

 

Carlos Morais in BAL action
Carlos Morais knows a BAL trophy title can make up for their difficult season. Picture: FIBA Africa

With the immediate prospect of finally clinching a title tonight, Morais and Petro know what they need to do to execute their final task.

“I know my goal, everybody knows what my goal is. At this point in my career, I want to win. I want to win a trophy. I want to get the trophy. And I understand that every year, the battle is getting harder and harder. So I feel like this year, we have a great chance. So my goal is to win this year,” said Morais.

Despite facing challenges this season, Morais is looking ahead and is ready to continue competing and building his legacy. While his time on the court may soon come to an end, he feels at this point he still has much to give.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be back at the BAL. Everybody knows I’m 38 years old and a lot of people think that I’m about to end my career. But I still have a lot of gas in the tank. So I’m going to continue to play a few more years,” concluded Morais.

Morais feels the BAL title is still within his and Petro’s grasp Read More »

Petro and Al Ahly Benghazi to battle it out in BAL final

(KIGALI) On Wednesday night, the Basketball Africa League (BAL) semi-finals produced two thrilling encounters (Rivers Hoopers vs Al Ahly Benghazi; Cape Town Tigers vs Petro de Luanda), which saw Petro and Al Ahly win in overtime.

In an electrifying match, Petro de Luanda secured a hard-fought 96-86 victory over the Cape Town Tigers in overtime. Both teams played relentlessly, leading to numerous lead changes and a dramatic finish that left fans on the edge of their seats.

The Tigers started strong, leading 16-15 at the end of the first quarter. Both teams demonstrated solid defence and efficient ball movement, keeping the game tight. However, foul trouble for the Tigers in the second quarter allowed Petro to gain a foothold.

With 7:40 left in the second quarter, back-to-back corner threes from Nicholas Faust put Petro up by six points. A turnover followed by an uncontested three extended their lead, making it 28-21 by halftime.

BAL action
Nkosinathi Sibanyoni drives to the rim while being guarded by Markieff Cummins in the BAL semi-final on Wednesday. Pictures: The BAL

The final quarter was a nail-biter, with the Tigers managing to tie the game at 77-77, thanks to Samkelo Cele’s clutch free throws, forcing the game into overtime. Petro’s resilience and tactical execution were evident as they outscored the Tigers 19-9, sealing their victory.

Petro’s Captain Carlos Morais praised the efforts of guard Samkelo Cele. “I love Samkelo, he is a great competitor, and from the last season, he has been growing and he is playing unbelievably. Coming into this game, the goal was to stop Cele because he is their best scorer and we respect him, I think he is gonna keep growing, he has a bright future.”

Coach Florsheim Ngwenya reflected on his team’s performance throughout the competition. “Congratulations to my guys because this is huge. Being at this stage of the competition gives everyone hope. We have done the impossible – it proves that South Africa has talent. However, how we organize the talent moving forward is important.

Petro will face Al Ahly Libya in the Finals on Saturday, and it’s a match-up that Morais looks forward to. “It’s going to be a battle, Solo Diabate is my good friend but it is gonna be a battle. I will try to not let him get the third one [title] and he will definitely try to stop me from getting my first one [title], but we are going to be ready to compete. I am sure it is going to be a good final.”

In the first semi-final of the day, Al Ahly Libya defeated The Rivers Hoopers 89-83, securing their spot in the finals. Al Ahly started the game strong offensively, finishing the first quarter with a 27-21 lead. By halftime, they had extended their advantage to 48-37, taking advantage of Rivers Hoopers’ turnovers and foul troubles.

Despite early struggles, the Rivers Hoopers displayed good ball movement and teamwork. However, three of their starters got into foul trouble, which impacted them down the stretch.

Al Ahly vs Rivers Hoopers in the BAL
Jeremy Golden directs traffic for Al Ahly Benghazi during the BAL semi-final against Rivers Hoopers.

Al Ahly Coach Ivan Jermic commented, “On paper, they are better than us, but statistics lie. Only their free-throw shooting was different. They shot 45% from the free throw line, and I think that is what determined the game.”

The third quarter saw a remarkable comeback from the Rivers Hoopers. Will Perry sparked the revival with back-to-back three-pointers, bringing his team within two points. The Rivers Hoopers continued their momentum into the fourth quarter, briefly taking an eight-point lead with six minutes remaining. However, Al Ahly fought back to tie the game and push it into overtime, ultimately securing their victory.

Coach Ogoh Odaudu says they consumed energy trying to close the score. “I think we spent a lot of energy trying to get back into the game. We dug ourselves out of a 14-point hole, but what’s done is done.” Despite the loss, Odaudu was pleased with his team’s efforts. “I am proud of our team. We hold our heads high. Nobody believed in us, but we are here. Unfortunately, our fairytale run has come to an end, but the third-place game still means a lot to us, and we are ready for it.”

Petro and Al Ahly Benghazi to battle it out in BAL final Read More »

Tigers and Al Ahly Benghazi stamp their BAL semi-final tickets

(KIGALI) – Last night’s BAL quarter-final match-ups at the BK Arena were reminiscent of the conference games, as familiar foes went head-to-head for a spot in the semi-finals.

Al Ahly Benghazi upset defending champions Al Ahly (Egypt) 86-77, while in the second semi-final, the Cape Town Tigers won a nail-biter (91-88) against FUS de Rabat, where a Samkelo Cele buzzer-beater sent the game into overtime.

Tigers Rally together to defeat number 1 seed, FUS de Rabat

The Cape Town Tigers had perhaps their best start to a game this season. The South African team rectified the mistakes that cost them in their two losses against FUS in the Kalahari Conference. From the jump ball, the Tigers contained FUS’ three-point shooting and limited them to only 3/8 at half-time.

Despite FUS’ bench contributing 33 points, the Tigers had an answer for every strategy thrown at them, a sign they had finally found their defensive identity. The South African side forced FUS into committing unnecessary turnovers leading to 22 points from their defensive effort.

Nkosinathi Sibanyoni of the Cape Town Tigers
Nkosinathi Sibanyoni holds the BAL’s in-game rebounding record after posting 25 rebounds against FUS Rabat in the semi-final on Sunday. Pictures: The BAL

Defensive anchor Nkosinathi Sibanyoni was phenomenal and notched the BAL All-time single-game rebounding record with 25 rebounds. Sibanyoni grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, affording his team much-needed second-chance scoring opportunities. His impact was also felt on offence as he scored 16 points.

Tigers coach Florsheim Ngwenya gave an update on Dhieu Deing, who went down after a collision in the fourth quarter. He said Deing that he had popped his shoulder but that the guard would be okay. 

About what led to the historic performance, Ngwenya said: “In our locker room, we have a quote that we put up on the board which says, ‘There are three kinds of people, the kind who make things happen, the kind who watch things happen and the kind who wonder what happened’. We didn’t want to be the third kind of person.”

Samkelo Cele, who finished the game with 30 points, reflected on the responsibility which comes with the big moments. “I love playing basketball and I love those moments. My team trusts me and so this pressure is a privilege. It gives me the joy to represent my country at the highest level, I cannot describe it. I just want to make South African basketball worth talking about, so I am happy to be here. But the job is not done,” said Cele.

FUS coach Said El Bouzidi felt his team did not take their opposition seriously. “The lesson is that there is no easy game at this level of the competition. We were not focused and our opponents killed us, the statistics say it all.”

 

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Al Ahly Ly Upset The Reigning Champions

Al Ahly Egypt (ASC) and Al Ahly Libya’s (AAL) third encounter this season was nothing short of what we expected. The style of play by both teams in the first quarter characterized their strengths. For Al Ahly (Egypt), it was their three-point shooting, while Benghazi relied on their inside game. However, the Cairo-based club’s inability to adapt until late in the second led to them going only 3/12 from deep to close out the half.

Benghazi’s Robert Golden, who dropped 23 points and dished out nine dimes, was the x-factor for the Libyans. The American point guard was unstoppable from behind the arc, going 5/9. Golden also did a great job at spreading the floor and got some good looks down low for Jo Acuil, who finished with a double-double (23 points and 11 rebounds) and Majok Deng, who finished with 25 points and nine rebounds.

Benghazi’s coach, Ivan Jermic reflected on his team’s strong performance. “Beatin Al Ahly is not easy, they are one of the best African teams – like Real Madrid. I am glad that we showed our personality through our good defence, but I am more happy because many people didn’t believe in our team,” said Jeremic.

Dhieu Deing during the BAL
Dhieu Deing sustained a shoulder injury in the semi-final against FUS Rabat.

The Serbian coach says the third quarter was their turning point. “Usually a quarter-final is the most difficult game because if you lose, you go home. The most important part of the game is the first six minutes of the third quarter and we went 10-0 in that period and I believe that we broke them in that period,” said Jeremic.

Two-time BAL-winning coach Julbe Bosch felt that their success in Cairo could have negatively impacted their performance. 

“We looked much better as a team in Cairo. I take responsibility for tonight, maybe we had a disconnect in the chemistry. That (chemistry) is what you need when you get to this stage of the competition,” said Bosch. “We started the game without a sense of urgency and we didn’t play like a semi-final was on the line. I’m disappointed. I also want apologise to our fans, the management and everyone who did all that they could to prepare us for this.”

The Tigers will face the winner of today’s (Monday) quarter-final game between Petro de Luanda and AS Douanes. Later tonight, Al Ahly Ly will take on the winner of the US Monastir and Rivers Hoopers game.

Tigers and Al Ahly Benghazi stamp their BAL semi-final tickets Read More »

BAL playoffs: Who are the contenders, who are the pretenders?

KIGALI – The highly anticipated BAL (Basketball Africa League) playoffs officially tip off later today (Friday) at BK Arena. The Big Tip Off reflects on the conference play and previews the eight teams ahead of the seeding games.

Cape Town Tigers 

The Tigers had a rocky start to their home debut during the Kalahari Conference, managing a single win against Petro de Luanda in their penultimate game of conference play. In that game (against Petro), the South African champions showed sparks of their potential. The Tigers also shared the ball better and reduced turnovers.

Several players demonstrated they could shoot the ball well and draw contact to put their opponents in the penalty. The Tigers sometimes seemed too reliant on “iso” plays despite it being ineffective in certain stretches of play. They also struggled to defend at the three-point line, and their average of 37.2 total rebounds per game compared to their opponents’ 45.0 total rebounds per game led to them giving up second-chance opportunities to their opponents in the paint.

Samkelo Cele is a vital contributor to the Tigers, and a solid team player when needed to fulfil certain roles. As the leading scorer for the team, Cele showcased his ability with an average of 20.5 points per game. Additionally, he led the team with 2.3 steals per game.

Cape Town Tigers player Samkelo Cele
Samkelo Cele has been the fulcrum for the Tigers in offence and defence. Pictures: FIBA Africa

The Tigers are one of the six teams who have made roster changes ahead of the BAL playoffs. The likes of Billy Preston, co-captain Lebesa Selepe and rookie Storm Gilchrist are no longer with the team. However, the additions of former Dynamo BBC guard Dheiu Deing, former Stade Malien forward Brian Bridgeforth and centre Mouhamadou Ndoye could stabilise the South African team.

AS Douanes 

The Senegal club had a mixed performance throughout the Sahara Conference. A loss of concentration down the stretch in games proved costly as they suffered three losses. However, their three wins, including a buzzer-beater by Mike Fofana with three seconds left in the game against Rivers Hoopers, showcased that the Senegalese champions can compete and win against the best of them.

AS Douanes struggled shooting the ball, averaging 33% from the field and 23.7% from beyond the arc. However, they averaged 16.8 offensive rebounds, giving them second-chance opportunities to put numbers on the scoreboard.

Abdoulaye Harouna was AS Douanes’ key player. Harouna struggled to find his footing in the first game, scoring only eight points, but bounced back with a 35-point performance against US Monastir in their second game. In the end, Harouna led the team with 17.6 points per game. His ability to disrupt the opponent’s defence led to an average of 3.6 steals per game, fuelling some much-needed transition offence in stretches when AS Douanes struggled to convert.

AS Douanes maintained their roster ahead of the BAL playoffs – they have the momentum from the Sahara Conference, but can it lead to an appearance in the final?

Al Ahly Egypt

Al Ahly finished at the top of the Nile Conference once again. But the reigning BAL champs, who have exhibited a composed demeanour found themselves a little shaken on a few occasions, including their upset loss to Uganda’s City Oilers.

To their credit, Al Ahly’s depth and versatility across all positions allowed them to aggressively attack their opponents, giving them comfortable leads in games. The Egyptian giants excelled in rebounding, averaging 43.8 total rebounds per game, indicating strong performance on both ends of the court.

Ehab Amin in action of Al Ahly
Can Ehab Amin lead Egyptian giants Al Ahly to a second BAL title?

The Egyptian Champions’ defence proved effective as they managed to hold their opponents to an average of 78.3 points per game and forced turnovers at a rate of 13.3 per game.

Ehab Amin led the charge for Al Ahly with 13.5 points per game. It may seem like a low number, but it showcased Al Ahly’s depth in offence. Against Bangui Sporting Club, Amin delivered a clutch three-pointer in the final minutes to seal Al Ahly’s 85-79 win. The guard led the team in rebounding.

The reigning champions have replaced Marwan Sahran and Ahmed Moheib with Omar Azab and Seifeldin Saied.

Petro de Luanda

The Angolans had a disappointing Kalahari Conference campaign despite clinching one of the automatic qualifications for Kigali. Petro, usually strong during the regular season, suffered two losses in regular season play.

Historically, Petro is a team that excels at moving the ball well and creating opportunities to showcase their ability to shoot from beyond the arc and stretch the floor. However, this season, they struggled and could not adjust as expected. Despite their offensive struggles, Petro maintained a competitive defensive presence by limiting their opponents’ shooting percentages and rebounding numbers. Their ability to limit opponents’ scoring opportunities and force turnovers contributes to their defensive effectiveness.

Childe Dundao was the standout player for the Angolan side, and his 25-point performance was crucial in their must-win game in the second round against FUS Rabat. The guard averaged 13.5 points per game, 3.5 assists per game, and shot 37% from the three-point line. Dundao, part of last season’s BAL All-Defensive Team, was able to disrupt the opponents’ offence and use his speed to push the ball and create transition scoring opportunities for Petro.

The Angolan champions have possibly made the biggest adjustment to their team, replacing coach Jose Neto with Sergio Moreno. Anthony Nelson and Edmir Lucas were replaced by guard Nicholas Faust and forward Clesio Castro. Castro will help to provide a strong interior presence, while Faust will be an additional scoring option.

 

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FUS da Rabat

The Moroccan club were the Kalahari Conference’s most exciting team. FUS showcased their versatility as each player stepped on the floor.

FUS was able to maximise scoring opportunities through their shot selection as well as offensive execution. This is reflected in their 46.4% field goal percentage. The Moroccan champions’ strong rebounding presence at both ends of the floor limited opponents’ second-chance opportunities.

Johnathan Jordan was a factor in FUS’ success. The guard averaged the most minutes played for the team, averaging two personal fouls per game. A good facilitator, Jordan averaged 4.5 assists per game, and his ability to convert, as he led the team’s scoring with an average of 16.3 points.

FUS have made no changes to their team as they will head into the BAL playoffs as they look to continue their dominance.

Al Ahly Libya

Al Ahly Benghazi’s debut in the Nile Conference saw them display individual brilliance and collective effort. Their balanced scoring, efficient shooting, strong rebounding, and disciplined play were hallmarks of their campaign. With solid contributions from their starters and bench, Al Ahly Benghazi showed that they are a well-rounded and resilient team capable of competing at a high level.

Throughout the regular season, Al Ahly Benghazi demonstrated a balanced scoring approach with five players averaging in double digits. This balanced attack made them less predictable and more challenging for opponents to defend. The team’s dominance in rebounding at the offence end provided crucial second-chance opportunities, allowing them to remain a threat in the paint. Al Ahly Benghazi also excelled in maintaining possession, resulting in minimized turnovers.

Jo Acuil was the standout player not only for Al Ahly, but he also gave a standout performance in the final regular season game against the City Oilers. In that game, Acuil set the BAL record for the most points scored (42). Throughout the Nile Conference, Acuil maintained a consistently high level of play, averaging a double-double. His regular season averages were 23 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game. He is a dual threat as both a prolific scorer and a formidable rebounder, making him an asset for the Libyan club. Acuil is a defensive pillar with great shot-blocking ability, rim protection and can alter shots.

The Libyan champions let go of their primary point guard, Pierre Jackson and Anees Almansouri and brought in Omar Aldirfeeli and Robert Wilson Golden. The loss of Jackson, who was a key contributor in his scoring, pushing the ball up the floor, could prove detrimental to them in the BAL playoffs.

Rivers Hoopers

Rivers Hoopers had a strong debut in the Sahara conference, remaining undefeated in the first round of the competition. But they would suffer two defeats later. The first was a buzzer-beater in a game against AS Douanes and the other because of visible fatigue in the final fixture against US Monastir. The last game saw star point guard Will Perry get a DNP.

At a glance, there is not much difference between the Hoopers’ and their opponents statistically. But it came down to their team chemistry, a component which many other teams have struggled to find so far this season. The Hoopers demonstrated their cohesive team dynamic. They have a balanced distribution of responsibilities and scoring support from Will Perry, Devine Eke, Kelvin Amayo, and Peter Olisemeka, who were able to step up for the team on any given night.

Perry emerged as the primary scorer and facilitator for the team, averaging 18.6 points per game and 5.4 assists. His efficiency in shooting the ball from beyond the arc made him a threat to the opponents but also allowed the Hoopers to spread the floor and make big shots while also getting some good looks for his teammates.

The Nigerian side let go of Michael Daramola and brought Victor Damiola Mohammed. Mohammed is no stranger to the tournament following his time with the Kwara Falcons last season. He will surely look to help the Hoopers as they try to make a deep run into the BAL playoffs.

Chris Crawford of US Monastir
Chris Crawford has led the revival of US Monastir during the Sahara Conference.

US Monastir

The Tunisian club emerged as a phoenix from the ashes to secure their spot in the BAL playoffs. After losing their first three games of the Sahara Conference, Monastir came out swinging in the second round. The Blue Empire won three straight to secure the last third-best place ticket.

While the team struggled in the first round, going 0-3, they showed resilience. Monastir managed to find their identity and corrected their mistakes. The impact of Firas Lahyani on the defensive glass and his steals allowed them to limit the opposition’s offensive opportunities and create opportunities for them to take advantage of their offensive arsenal and convert offensively.

Chris Crawford was the Tunisian side’s offensive catalyst, leading the team with 19.2 points per game. Crawford showcased his versatility in his consistent production on the offensive end, creating opportunities for his teammates. He averaged 8.5 assists per game – the record for the regular season.

Monastir made one change to their roster – the addition of guard Avry Marshall Holmes, who brings experience from South America. He will provide an additional scoring option to the Tunisian side. Holmes replaces Amrou Bouallague.

BAL playoffs: Who are the contenders, who are the pretenders? Read More »

Amin betting on Al Ahly to do a first BAL title repeat

MANY champions can often recall a particular moment when they knew they were close to achieving their goals. For Al Ahly guard Ehab Amin, the moment came during the fourth quarter of the Season 3 BAL final. 

His recollection of the sequence leading to the defining moment captured the essence of why Al Ahly is a lethal team. The Egyptian club’s ability to quickly capitalize on the defensive mishaps of Senegal’s AS Douanes helped points on board in quick succession in last year’s BAL final in Kigali, Rwanda.

“It was late in the fourth quarter when Corey Webster hit a three in the corner. The other team (AS Douanes) inbounded the ball. I got a steal and hit another three. At that point, it was a five-point game, and then suddenly, it jumped to 11. That possession was exciting and at that moment, we knew that we were going to win the championship. It was our main focus and goal for a long time,” says Amin. 

Following their performance in the recently concluded Nile conference, Al Ahly secured a spot in Kigali for the playoffs at the end of May. The North African giants hope to become the BAL’s first back-to-back champions.

In an interview with the Big Tip Off, Amin reflects on his childhood, the challenges he faced early in his career, and the impact of the BAL on Egypt.

Ehab Amin hugs coach
Ehab Amin embraces coach Agusti Julbe after winning their maiden BAL title. Picture: FIBA Africa

Amin grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, where he started playing basketball aged six for Alexandria Sporting Club. He also enjoyed playing soccer and swimming until he was 11 years old.

“I started playing basketball early in Alexandria. The city and the club I started at [Sporting] were great factors for me to start my basketball career. Basketball was always my favourite, and it was love at first sight. I was good at it, so I kept playing it in school, and my parents supported me when they found out that I wanted to pursue it after school.”

Aged 13, Amin dreamt of studying abroad and pursuing a basketball career in the USA despite the lack of role models from Egypt who had made a similar move. After three years, his dream became a reality as he joined St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy. He then went on to play collegiate basketball at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and ended his career at the University of Oregon.

“Back then, it was not very popular for Egyptians to go play in the USA, like in high school, college, or even the NBA, I think. So, it was my dream. Watching the NBA and even watching college basketball – the Spurs were my favourite team, and my dream was to play at the highest level. I knew at that time that college could lead me to that, and it was a big step for me. When the chance came, I took it.”

But Amin had his fair share of challenges, especially with injury. First breaking his back, he then sustained a hip injury four years later. There was also adapting to the cultural and environmental changes after leaving Egypt. The 28-year-old credits the support system he had. The former Oregon Ducks player says the people around helped him stay focused and overcome the potential career roadblocks.

“Those challenges built my character. It helped me grow my personality, and helped me be a lot stronger mentally to get to where I am. The people around me at the time also helped me. They knew I wanted to get through those tough times and pursue my dream of playing (basketball),” says Amin. “I knew that I had a long-term goal, and I stuck with it, and that shaped my career after.”

Amin has reaped the rewards of his perseverance and is fulfilling his dream of playing at the highest level in the BAL. He says the competition has helped generate interest in the game in Egypt.

“The BAL has influenced Egypt a lot and in a positive way. It has brought a lot of attention to the game of basketball,” says Amin. “Egypt, like many other African countries, is a very football-dominant country so getting to host the Nile conference has put a spotlight on basketball. I think that is helping the game big time here and it can only go up.”

It is a unique opportunity for Egypt, as the domestic league does not allow spectators at games. As Amin describes it, “It’s fun to play in front of friends, family and players from other sporting codes. And even some celebrities. It’s nice to have them that close to you and it brings the best out of you for sure.”

What makes hosting the Nile Conference extra memorable for Amin is that former mentors and coaches also saw the fruits of their labour in action.

“It’s really special, seeing the old coaches. You get to show them that they did a great job coaching you and they got enjoy that at the arena,” says Amin. “I think they feel like proud fathers. It was great to catch up with them before or even after the games because you don’t get to see them often. Those are moments I enjoy.”

On the court, Al Ahly finished their Nile Conference campaign with a 5-1 record. They suffered an upset defeat against the City Oilers. But the telltale signs began in the game against Central African Republic’s Bangui Sporting Club, where Al Ahly narrowly pulled off an 85-79 win but subsequently fell 82-81 to the Oilers.

“We took things for granted, starting with the game against Bangui. But we managed to come out on top in that game. Against the Oilers we fell into a trap. We thought we could win at any point by double digits,” says Amin. “They deserved to win. They were present the whole game. It was a game with a lot of lead changes and we felt like we could turn it on at any time and win the game. But in the game of basketball, you’ve got to respect the opponent and the game and we made a lot of mistakes at the end of the game offensively and defensively so we paid for that.”

Ehab Amin at BAL season 4
Ehab Amin celebrates winning the BAL Season 3 title with Al Ahly.

Despite the hiccups they faced during the Nile Conference, Amin is confident that in the weeks leading up to Kigali, Al Ahly will improve.

“We are going to get better. There is enough time between now and Kigali to sharpen up. It is just about having everyone on the same page and being cohesive,” says Amin. “We want to be at our peak at the most important moment. That will lead us to our main goal which is to get better and win games.”

Looking beyond the finals, Amin hopes to cement his legacy with Al Ahly on the court. 

“I want to do more than just win titles for Al Ahly. I want help to build a legacy with this team. One that everybody in Egypt or even in Africa will talk about for a long time. A lot of teams have done that before and I want this generation of Al Ahly to be the same,” said the Egyptian international.

Off the court, Amin hopes to create opportunities for kids residing outside of Cairo and Alexandria. He hopes to help them gain access to the same facilities he had growing up.

“I have always wanted to give back to the community… To the kids, especially in places outside of Alexandria and Cairo because we have a lot of clubs, coaches, and courts but there is some raw talent in other cities,” concluded Amin. 

Amin betting on Al Ahly to do a first BAL title repeat Read More »

Miller’s refined skills to help City Boys navigate Nile Conference

THE last time we caught up with Dane Miller Jr, he and the City Oilers were fresh off a successful Road To BAL Elite 16 campaign. They finished second behind the Cape Town Tigers to clinch a ticket to Season 4 of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) behind the moniker the “City Boys.”

After spending time in Indonesia with Prawira Bandung in the Indonesian Basketball League, the forward is back with the Ugandan club. The Oilers will open their Basketball Africa League Nile Conference on Friday (tonight) at 7 pm CAT at the Hassan Mostafa Indoor Sports Complex in Cairo, Egypt.

In an interview with The Big Tip Off, Miller reflected on his time with the Guinean club SLAC and how his time in Indonesia prepared him to take on a leadership role at the Oilers. Miller also spoke about his growth and playing alongside projected 2025 Lottery Pick and Duke commit, Khaman Maluach.

Dane Miller Jr at BAL Season 2
Dane Miller felt like he was in a comfort zone playing for Guinea’s SLAC. Pictures: FIBA Africa

In his first two seasons, he improved from 14.7 points per game, 5.8 assists and 1.5 steals to 21.2 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.4 steals, an effort which earned him the BAL All-First Team Honours. Coming into this season, Miller feels ready to take things to the next level.

“I feel much more comfortable now. In my first BAL season with SLAC, we had a great team. I made the second team by just waking up off the couch. Honestly, I wasn’t playing anywhere before that. Last year, I played somewhere, and my team allowed me to play. But this year, coming off of playing in Indonesia, my body looks different even when comparing it to the [Road to BAL] qualifiers,” Miller explains.

The 34-year-old spent the window between The Elite 16 and Season 4 playing for Prawira Bandung in the Indonesian Basketball League, an experience which Miller, already a prolific scorer, credits for sharpening his defensive skills.

“Defensively, I’m in great shape due to the role that I played in Indonesia. I was focused and locked in, and I knew that I’d be asked to guard the other team’s best player. I’m more confident now, having played in this league for two years. I feel that I’ve done enough to earn the other team’s respect when I step on the court, which makes me even more confident,” said the American-born player.

The Oilers team has made some changes to their coaching staff with the departure of Mandy Juruni. They have welcomed a new coach, Karim Nesba, a former Moroccan national team player. In addition to the coaching appointment, new players such as Randy Culpepper Sr, Muhammed Bashir Ahmed, and Patrick Ronald Rembert have been acquired. The Oilers have also retained most of the local core from the Road To BAL. After a week of training camp in Cairo, Miller is happy with how the new additions have adjusted.

“We have had good preparation for our upcoming games. Some days we had two practices, while other days we had one. During this time, we have been bonding as a team. We are working hard on different strategies and techniques that we are learning on the fly,” says Miller. “Our coach is putting us in positions that push us out of our comfort zones, but overall, it has been a positive and valuable experience. We feel confident going into our upcoming games.”

The Oilers also welcomed Khaman Maluach, the projected 2025 NBA Lottery pick and Duke commit, who will be an asset to the team.

“Having him on the team is a big advantage. He has a bigger body and can do many things. The last time I saw him, I noticed that he was a great rim protector. Despite being young, he is very competitive and eager to learn. These are the reasons why he is considered an NBA lottery pick,” says Miller.

“I believe we will work well together because passing is one of my strengths. I can teach him different ways to set screens and roll and help him gain confidence on the court. We are counting on him to enjoy the game, be competitive, and contribute to our team. We already have a great team, and he will only add to it.”

The Oilers will have a true test of their strength and preparation tonight (Friday) when they take on the defending champions, Al Ahly Egypt, who are favourites coming into the match. But this task has in no way dulled the Oilers’ confidence.

“The underdog approach I guess is what is sparking some motivation for ourselves, I could say. We have a really good team. I know that everyone is talking about Al Ahly and the other teams and that is okay,” says Miller.

“Bangui Sporting Club is also gonna be tough but it’s okay for those teams to be the favourite – one team is a returning champion and the other team is historically good but it’s still basketball. You still have to go out there and play and figure out who can do what. We’ll see, anything can happen but they put their shoes on the same way we put our shoes on.”

Dane Miller in action at the Road To BAL
Dane Miller says he has refined his skills ahead of the Nile Conference.

As for Miller, he has his eyes set on improving the small details he felt he neglected in last season’s BAL.

“One of the biggest disappointments for me about last year was not making first team all defence. I felt like I deserved that with the stats I had especially on the defensive end. I had the chance to win the scoring title and I lost that on my own. It was the little things like missing free throws,” says Miller.

With the Nile Conference set to start tonight, Miller spoke confidently about the prospects of the Oilers. He feels they will be among the two teams to gain automatic qualification to the playoffs in Kigali, Rwanda.

“When we get to Rwanda I feel like I can lead this team with what we have to a championship and lead a team of rebounders. I just want to be the best leader I can be.”

Miller’s refined skills to help City Boys navigate Nile Conference Read More »

Gatling talks becoming a referee and mentorship of women

IMPRESSIVE crossovers, long-range shooting, dunks, or chase-down blocks are elements of basketball that keep fans on the edge of their seats. Then, there is the part that always divides opinions. It often riles players, coaches, players and fans, but it is necessary for maintaining order in the game. Officiating!

Referee Gerda Gatling has taken on this high-pressure role. She was one of the officials during the recently concluded Basketball Africa League (BAL) Kalahari Conference.

In an interview with The Big Tip Off, Gatling talked about her time as a student-athlete, the importance of networking and relationship building, and the BAL4Her initiative.

Gatling started playing basketball at age seven in Virginia, United States. She was inspired to play by watching her father, one of her first coaches, and older cousin play pick-up games. But she was also an all-state track athlete. It is the sense of community that basketball provided that ultimately won her heart.

“I was naturally good at running track, but I decided to play basketball because it was more of a team sport,” says Gatling. “I liked the idea of working together as a team towards a common goal.”

Gerda Gatling officiating at the BAL
Gerda Gatling left her nine-to-five to become a professional referee. Pictures: Supplied

The idea for Gatling to become a referee took hold during and after her playing days at Stony Brook University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics and Business Management in 2013. That college experience gave her something precious – the ability to handle adversity, a quality key to officiating.

She was also able to build and maintain connections within the Stony Brooks alumni network. She remained a part of the Black and Latino alumni network, even after graduating and starting a career in corporate finance. It is this connection that ultimately opened the door to officiating and also led to her leaving what had become an unfulfilling office job.

“I attended a bi-monthly meeting of the black and Latino alumni group. It was an in-person meeting, and during a conversation with one of the board members (Morgan Cato) about our plans for the weekend, I mentioned that I would be refereeing. Little did I know that she was working on a program within the NBA office,” explained Gatling.

Gerda Gatling at work
Gerda Gatling says basketball and tech go hand in hand.

The conversation proved life-changing, as Gatling signed up for an early career development program (Referee Development Program), which assists former players to become referees. This opportunity allowed her to transition out of corporate and back to the game of basketball.

“It was good to get back on the court but to now be working professionally in a different craft,” says Gatling. “It feels like you are a player because you are constantly working on something. Working on a skill. Whether it’s working on the different roles, on knowledge, positioning, signals, court presence, it was just awesome to get back into that mindset.”

Gatling now works across various competitions including; the G-League, The BIG 3, Athletes Unlimited, as well as Division 1 Women’s Basketball games across the BIG10, The Big East, Atlantic 10, The MEC, The Ivy, The Sun Belt, and most recently the BAL’s Kalahari Conference.

Gatling – who has Nigerian heritage – has paid close attention to Africa’s premier club basketball competition. She says nothing could have prepared her for the experience.

“I did not know what to expect. But my initial expectations got completely blown out of the water. The experience was awesome, the games were competitive and the atmosphere was electric. But what is most exciting is that it is only going to grow bigger and bigger,” says Gatling. “I am grateful that I got to be a part of the South African leg… It’s an honour to get chosen to work at the BAL. It is a great experience and an opportunity to grow as an official.”

During the Kalahari Conference, Gatling was one of 20 mentors who participated in the BAL4Her Career in Sports Workshop. BAL4Her is a platform created by BAL to promote gender equity in the African sports ecosystem.

Gerda Gatling
Gerda Gatling was impressed with the BAL Kalahari Conference. Picture: The BTO

The workshop highlighted opportunities for young women and gave them tools to tackle day-to-day challenges. “There is a lot of opportunity to work in sports and the realm of basketball. And you don’t have to be on the court. A lot of times you do not know what is possible unless you have those conversations, especially with people who look like you and have had those experiences,” says Gatling.

“It is amazing that in year four and even before, it (the BAL) has prioritised giving women the opportunity to engage with other influential women in the space to get that exposure and mentorship.”

The workshop debunked the idea that only sports management degrees can lead to a career in the sports industry. Gatling, a qualified software developer, echoed this point.

“People are multifaceted, and there are multiple things that a person can like. I feel like sometimes we limit ourselves when it comes to our professions and what we do professionally,” says Gatling.

“It is tough to do both at times and it can be mentally exhausting. But I find it important to work in both industries. The tech space is parallel to the sports space in so many ways. Whether it is the on-court stuff that we test at Summer League or what our analytics team does in the office. Just like there is a push for women to be in sports, there is also the same push on the tech side.”

The popularity of women’s basketball has surged in recent years. Gatling hopes that the sport’s popularity will expand to the global stage.

“Women’s basketball is consistently growing. We hope to see more ambassadors like Jewell Loyd, who we had at the recent Kalahari Conference, come to the BAL. It’s crucial to continue expanding the sport, domestically and globally, especially for women. I believe the sport will continue to grow. It’s only a matter of time before it receives the respect it deserves.”

Gatling talks becoming a referee and mentorship of women Read More »

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