NBA Africa

Thunder rocking Kenya and eyeing continental participation

DURING the Cape Town Tigers’ match against FUS Rabat two weeks ago, three men quietly walked into the Sunbet Arena clad in the colours of Kenya’s super club, Nairobi City Thunder.

Sitting courtside at the BAL Kalahari Conference match, the men surveyed the scene, making mental notes of the setting they hope to see their club participate in next year. The Thunder, who came under new ownership last year, have caused raptures in the East African country’s basketball landscape.

Colin Rasmussen, founder and CEO of Twende Sports INC (the company that owns Nairobi City Thunder), Stephen Domingo (co-founder and head of basketball operations of Twende) and team coach Bradley Ibs, who were in South Africa for a couple of days, are spearheading the Thunders’ pursuit for a place in the BAL.

Colin Rasmussen
Colin Rasmussen has lived in Kenya for 11 years. Pictures: The BTO

Rasmussen, born in the US but raised in Pakistan, has called Kenya home for the last 11 years. The lifelong hooper has been active in the basketball scene of that country.

“I love basketball and I am passionate about it. Throughout my time there (Nairobi) I have been involved in the basketball scene. I have built courts and been active in the game from a recreational perspective,” says Rasmussen.

The formation of Twende, which means ” let’s go” in Swahili, has helped Rasmussen and partners do their bit to help transform basketball in Kenya.

“Last year, I decided with my business partners to start Twende Sports – a company dedicated to building the basketball ecosystem and promoting the sport,” said Rasmussen, who is from the streetball circuit. “We believe this is also a unique moment for Africa with the NBA investing in the continent. We are now seeing some of the best players in the world coming from Africa.

“The game is growing on the continent, and we want to support that.”

American-born Domingo has family ties to Nigeria and had the honour of captaining the West African nation’s team during the 2021 Afrobasket in Rwanda.

The 28-year-old former Georgetown Hoyas player says he was searching for ways to give back to basketball on the continent. That is when he met Rasmussen.

“It’s been important for me to figure out how to reinvest in basketball on the continent. Colin and I met in 2022 before I graduated (with an MBA). He was working on another venture. Our focus has been working to grow the game in Kenya, East Africa and we want to achieve success on the continent,” said Domingo.

Rasmussen continued in a similar vein as Domingo. He feels the existence of the BAL has changed the game on the continent, and the aim is for the Thunder to compete at that level.

“I felt this is basketball’s moment with the Basketball Africa League. It’s a new platform, and we aspire to have the best team in Africa. We want to prove that through the BAL,” said Rasmussen. “We have created a professional team, which is a first for Kenya because club basketball there has been recreational. It is a professional environment with contracts for players, with long-term commitments to them, and a proper training environment that enables the existing talent to go to the next level.”

Acquiring top talents like Ariel Okall, Ariel Ortega, Faheem Juma, Fidel Okoth, Griffin Ligare, and Albert Odero has made the club a force. The six Thunder players were also part of the Kenya Morans team that played in the 2025 AfroBasket qualifiers in February.

Rasmussen stressed the importance of supporting the national team.

“Our goal is to elevate the game of basketball. Our investment also supports the national team and the ecosystem in Kenya. So, we encourage our players to be part of the national team,” said Rasmussen. “It also benefits us, because it puts the players on the next level platform.”

Stephen Domingo
Stephen Domingo captained the Nigeria national team at the 2021 AfroBasket in Rwanda.

While Kenyan players are the core of the Thunder, Domingo highlighted the importance of tapping into the expatriate communities for talent.

“Any good roster has a thesis behind it. Ours is that the Kenyan players are the backbone of the team. There is also a large South Sudanese population in Nairobi. Within that community are talented players who are looking for opportunities… So, it’s talent we should not lose out on,” said Domingo.

Rasmussen and Domingo are on track to fulfilling their ambition for the Nairobi-based club. The undefeated Thunder, who have a 16-0 record in the Kenya Basketball League (KBL), are on course to finish top. With a place in the KBL playoffs guaranteed, the goal is to win the league and set themselves on the path to the pinnacle of African club basketball.

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Blogtable writers talk past vs present ahead of NBA All Star game

THE African Blogtable brings together some of the top basketball minds from across the continent to answer some of the league’s most pressing questions about the 2023-24 NBA season.

NBA All-Star returns to Indianapolis from February 16-18 for the first time since 1985. To celebrate the nearly forty years between the two midseason showcases in Indiana and the return of the Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference format, the NBA posed a fun hypothetical scenario to local and international journalists: in a tournament-style matchup between 1985, won 140-129 by The West squad, and 2024 All-Star teams, who do you think would win?

1985 East 2024 East
Vs. → Winner Vs. Winner ← Vs.
1985 West 2024 West

 

The NBA All-Star 2024 is a global celebration of basketball. A record number of international players in the NBA taking part in this year’s games and competitions. Get full weekend coverage on ESPN and NBA League Pass and the NBA All-Star Game on Canal + and ZAP (Angola/Mozambique) on February 19 at 03:00 a.m. CAT.

Alex Isaboke, Capital FM (Kenya): Pairing the two sides, I will go with 1985 West vs 2024 West where the current West side, captained by LeBron James, I predict, would eventually lift the 2024 NBA All-Star title, because technology has aided develop the game of basketball by helping the current players perfect their vertical jump, dribbling and on-court intensities; which are the traits that define the versatility of this year’s Western Conference lineup. They have excellent playmaking with LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, and Devin Booker, fantastic shooting with Luka Doncic, Steph Curry, and Devin Booker, and pace and athleticism in Paul George, Luka Doncic, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, with that intensity I do not think the Michael Jordan-led team will match, though it will be an entertaining final.

Amine El Amiri, Le Matin (Morocco): It is always hard to compare players in different eras. By just looking at the roster of both the 1985 and 2024 NBA All-Star Games, you can only imagine that the hypothetical game would be an absolute stunner. In the 1985 game, the Western Conference team won by 11 points, despite the Eastern Conference team being stacked with legends. But for me, I would’ve picked the Eastern team to win. In 2024, I think the West has more game changers and can rely on evergreen LeBron James to make a difference, along with the likes of Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic. Still, I think that the 1985 Eastern team has got more power and a more defensive team. Having five Hall of Famers as starters would guarantee the offensive end would be an absolute Magic show (no pun intended).

Damas Sikubwabo, The New Times (Rwanda): The Western Conference wins this year’s All-Star game, I reckon. Players on this team have the best scoring statistics this season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, and Kevin Durant can light up the court with their scoring prowess. Of course, LeBron James and Nikola Jokic’s skills speak volumes. Of course, the Eastern Conference has great players as well, but I guess the Western Conference will be too hot to handle for them. Also, it might be fair to say that the Western Conference has been more competitive this year and this also gives them an edge.

 

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Now, if this year’s Western Conference came up against with the 1985 Western Conference, it would be a tough battle. The 1985 team is a very good scoring team as well, as it boasts the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, playing alongside the Ralph Sampson and Magic Johnson. The two teams would be a spectacle for the fans.  In the end I think the 1985 team has a greater chance to walk away with the victory.

Nicasius Agwanda, Clouds Media (Tanzania): First, what rules are being applied? If it’s the 80’s era rules, I’d take both the West and East from 1985 winning the whole thing. But with the current rules, my take would be the current West team because of just one reason, shooting. The size is there, and they shoot so well with the three-pointers being a subject of interest right now. The 1985 East was very good, but Michael Jordan was still young while Dr. J was two years from retirement. Shooting would be the main reason  I’d choose the 2024 team.

Sindiswa Mabunda, The Big Tip Off (South Africa): In my opinion, the 2024 NBA All-Star Team from the Western Conference will win this year’s game. Furthermore, I believe they would also win if they were to play against the winning team from the 1985 All-Star Game. Although seven players from the 1985 West Team went on to be Hall of Famers, I think that the versatility and depth of the 2024 West Team in every position would put them in a position to win the game. The likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Nikola Jokic, among others, make it hard to pick the 1985 team over the talent we currently have.

Lebron James will star in All Star weekend
LeBron James talents will be on display in Indiana in the All Star Game. Pictures: Getty Images

We must account for recency bias, but the size, athleticism, and IQ that LeBron possesses, combined with the scoring ability of Durant and Jokic’s ability to alternate between being a centre and handling the ball, along with Steph Curry’s shooting skills, make the 2024 West Team hard to overlook. In a head-to-head comparison at every position, they have the edge. The game would be tightly contested, but the 2024 West Team would come out on top.

Tosin Abayomi, Pulse (Nigeria): The 1985 squad had legendary big men  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Moses Malone from both conferences.  The guard rotation of Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, and Magic Johnson were also in their prime.  Larry Bird was the reigning league MVP and Julius Erving at the time was also a dangerous wing player.  The modern-day game, however, will give the 2024 NBA All-Stars an edge in that match-up.  The 2024 West set, however, possesses more scoring options from the guard and wing positions.  With Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Devin Booker, and Steph Curry the 2024 NBA All-Stars are almost unguardable.  LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the greatest to have played the game. They make it so much more difficult for the 1985 side to have a shot at winning. It would be a fun matchup though.

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African Blogtable writers give insights on NBA Xmas battles

THE African Blogtable brings together some of the top basketball minds from across the continent to answer some of the league’s most pressing questions ahead of the 2023-24 NBA season.

The NBA launched their Christmas Day campaign, “The Gift of Game”, celebrating the timeless tradition and magic of holiday hoops which will this year see five games for the 16th consecutive season on December 25.

Games will reach fans across the world in more than 200 countries and territories including Africa. The 76th edition of the NBA on Christmas Day will see Golden State Milwaukee Bucks vs. New York Knicks, Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics vs. L.A. Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns.

All five games will air live on ESPN, Canal + and NBA League Pass, while SABC (South Africa), ZAP (Angola/Mozambique), NTV (Kenya), Afrosport TV, NTA, Silverbird, TVC and ITV (Nigeria) and Clouds (Tanzania) will air a showdown between Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors and Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets at 21:30 CAT.

  • In the spirit of the Christmas Day brand campaign, The Gift of Game, what gift has basketball granted you?
  • Which Christmas Day matchups are you looking forward to?
NBA Xmas battles
LeBron James will lead the Lakers against Jayson Tatum’s Celtics. Pictures: Getty Images

Manyehlisa Lehohla & Sindiswa Mabunda, The Big Tip Off (South Africa)

Manyehlisa Lehohla: Basketball gifted me the dream of starting a media platform, The Big Tip Off.  For the last five years, The Big Tip Off has been one of the leading contributors of basketball content on the African continent. We have featured NBA Academy Africa and great servants of African basketball like Thierry Kita Matungulu and Emmanuel Mavomo. One of our most significant achievements is covering the Basketball Africa League’s (BAL) Nile Conference in Cairo, Egypt, earlier in the year. We have also started providing up-and-coming content producers a chance to exhibit their writing skills. And as operations grow, we hope to pass that gift on to others.

Sindiswa Mabunda: I’m excited about the stacked Christmas Day schedule, which is always a great way to end a day spent with family. I particularly look forward to the third match-up between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.  Despite the Celtics having a better record and the best defensive rating in the league, their lack of depth will disappoint them down the stretch. The Lakers, on the other hand, have more scoring options beyond the arc and the ability to attack both sides of the ball. Led by Anthony Davis and James, who keeps raising the bar in his 21st season, the Lakers have been playing phenomenal basketball. When they’re in sync, they are almost unstoppable.

Alex Isaboke, Capital FM (Kenya)

Basketball has gifted me a lot especially in building up to this festive season: seeing the game I love open an NBA Africa office in my country Kenya was a delight. I will be able to see the game develop and more talent from the country have an opportunity to be discovered especially as the interest of the game continues to grow.

Secondly, the NBA In-Season Tournament was the best thing to happen to any basketball lover, that meant more games to enjoy and eventually seeing LeBron cement his ‘King’ status by adding another title!

A definite clash to watch out for is the Golden State Warriors vs Denver Nuggets. Both teams considered as the powerhouses of the West, it will be interesting to see who will help their team to glory. Will it be Steph Curry for the Warriors or reigning MVP Nikola Jokic?  It will be a closely contested affair, but I will go with the Nuggets for the win because they are a young team; they will have home-court advantage and with Jokic’s performance expected to be a game-changer coupled by sharpshooter Jamal Murray – it will be good see them extend their recent dominance over the Warriors.

 

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Tosin Abayomi, Pulse (Nigeria)

Basketball has provided a unique opportunity to dream. Growing up I took an interest in basketball in my teenage years which has fueled my desire as a journalist to be versatile. The excitement basketball has provided me over the years has contributed to my passion for staying up late at night to watch the NBA and I won’t have it any other way.

The Lakers won the In-Season Tournament but have since suffered a dip in form.  Facing off against the Boston Celtics, 17-time NBA Champions, and long-term rivals, LeBron James has an opportunity to galvanize his team to make a statement against the title favorites on Christmas Day.

The Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks match-up provides an incredible spark of excitement with the offensive talents on display. The rivalry between Devin Booker and Luka Doncic makes this a tantalizing affair to end the Christmas Day slate. The Suns team has not lived up to the hype this season. But they have an opportunity to remind the world why they are among the favorites in the West against a resurgent Mavs.

Damas Sikuwabo, The New Times (Rwanda)

At a tender age, sports played a crucial role in my daily activities. Basketball has given me a whole career.  I have had the chance to learn from the best, I have also had a chance to connect with some of the legends of the sport.

In a span of two years, I have had the opportunity to travel more than 10 times from Rwanda to other countries in the region and beyond.  I have also won myself several accolades because of covering basketball.

I am looking forward to the Celtics and Lakers game because both clubs compete at a high level and share a long-standing history. Equally important, both teams are potential contenders in the East and West, respectively.

NBA Xmas battles
Joel Embiid has been phenomenal for the 76ers and he will be expected to lead past Jimmy Butler and the heat.

Mor Bassine Niang, Record (Senegal)

Basketball gifts me every day- it is a game that provides a lot of emotion. It’s always a pleasure to follow the games, Christmas or not. The greatest gift is to fully experience what you love. Basketball is Santa Claus every day. And that explains the love fans have for the sport. Personally, I am spoiled to have experienced for the past 15 years the atmosphere of the arenas in Senegal, Africa and the world. I can cite, as an example, the Basketball Africa League which offers its share of joy and great atmosphere.

I believe that the Boston – Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers – Miami Heat games will be exciting matchups.  These two games will keep basketball fans in suspense given the quality of the squads. The Heat are in good shape and will be up against the 76ers who are 19-8. The Lakers have just come off winning the first NBA In-Season Tournament and the Celtics lead the East 21-6.  Exciting player matchups to watch out for are Jimmy Butler vs Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum vs LeBron James. These are duels which I believe will light up the floor.

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African Blogtable writers share insights on NBA IST final

THE African Blogtable has brought together some of the top minds in basketball from across the continent to answer some of the most pressing questions during the 2023-24 NBA season.

The race to the NBA Cup is finally coming to an end. The first NBA In-Season Tournament (IST) final tips off on December 10 (Sunday) with a battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers (03:30 a.m. CAT on NBA League Pass).

In a thrilling week of IST games, the last showdown takes place in Las Vegas.

The IST Final will feature two players from Africa, the Pacers’ Oscar Tshiebwe from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Lakers’ Rui Hachimura (Japan) with ties to Benin.

  • The NBA In-Season Tournament (IST) champions will be crowned this weekend. What are your predictions going into the final?
  • Your breakout player of the tournament?

Sindiswa Mabunda, The Big Tip Off (South Africa)

Indiana Pacers combo-guard Tyrese Haliburton is my breakout player of the IST.  Haliburton has been phenomenal, making pivotal plays in the opening game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He also led a second-half comeback against the Boston Celtics, the second-best defensive team in the league. Haliburton’s playmaking abilities shone in the quarterfinals. He secured his first career triple-double while helping the Pacers secure a huge win over Boston.

He puts his teammates in positions that change the game’s momentum, showing how he utilizes the depth of the young team. The Pacers have put the league on notice and Haliburton is a rising star on one of the biggest stages the NBA has to offer.

 

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Alex Isaboke, Capital FM (Kenya)

Even though the Lakers aren’t firing on all cylinders to start the 2023-24 season, this is their chance to stamp their authority by winning an early title.

Los Angeles’ proximity to Las Vegas, will give their fans will also be key in inspiring them to victory.  Apart from LeBron James, another player to watch is forward Anthony Davis, who is athletic and a good ball handler. He also shone in the quarter-finals against the Suns.

My breakout player of the tournament is Tyrese Haliburton, who is propelling the NBA’s best offence with the Indiana Pacers. Despite not having playoff experience, he has managed to handle pressure and played a key role in the Pacers’ undefeated run. His stats have been phenomenal as Haliburton has been the only player in the NBA averaging at least 25 points and 11 assists a night this season.

Damas Sikawubo, The New Times (Rwanda)

I am betting on the Los Angeles Lakers. Powered by LeBron James, the Lakers remain unbeaten, and I don’t think the Indiana Pacers will change that.

My prediction for the Lakers to win is not just attributed to LeBron, who, in my view, had a strong performance in the inaugural tournament, but the whole group.

The Lakers earned the top seed in the West by going unbeaten in the group stage of the inaugural tournament, and should Darvin Ham’s boys work on closing out games, the title could head to California.

Austin Reaves stands out as my breakout player, as for stars Anthony Davis and LeBron James, they will do their thing in the final.

James has been making and breaking records for over two decades, but the fun part of the In-Season Tournament is its newness and he has a chance to set records that other players will one day aspire to break.

Through five games, he ranks ninth in the tournament in total points (131), fourth in assists (41), fifth in steals (nine) and 16th in rebounds (40).

Austin Reaves has to show up to the party, for such aspirations to come to reality.

Photo: (credit NBAE/Getty Images)

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Neto talks Elite 16 and helping Angola reclaim their glory

AGINALDO Neto and his NBA Academy teammates closed out practice with a free throw drill. When a couple of players missed their shots, the entire team had to sprint the length of the court. Of course, the budding prospects must complete their sprints within seconds and under the watchful eye of coach Alfred Aboya, who keeps count.

After a few more misses, they again have to sprint, this time, to the half-court, back to the baseline and then the length of the court. Much to the relief of some tired players, some already hunched over with their hands on their knees, South Sudanese centre Khaman Maluach scores the free throw to end the Friday practice at the Mandeville Sports Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Aginaldo Neto at NBA Academy practice
Aginaldo Neto has had a smooth transition into the NBA Academy. Pictures: The BTO

Neto, who spoke to The Big Tip Off ahead of the Academy’s Road To BAL Elite 16 Division East participation (21 November – 26 November), says this is the norm in their practices.

“This is something we are used to – running after we miss shots, no matter who is watching, this is what we do,” said Angolan-born Neto.

The 17-year-old point guard joined the Senegal-based Academy after last year’s FIBA U18 African Championships in Madagascar. Neto feels privileged to be part of the Academy setup and says he was undaunted when he left home to chase his basketball dreams.

“It was an easy process (joining the NBA Academy) because I lived in an academy before I left Angola. I always call my family on weekends. I talk about my experiences, and we share jokes. It’s been easy because I have support from my family and the Academy,” said Neto.

“I am feeling blessed to have (joined the Academy). It shows that hard work pays off. If I did not work hard, I would not be here. I feel like I am one of the best point guards on the continent. I also have the best teammates in Africa and the world.”

 

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The Academy players are playing in the Elite 16 to showcase their talents for the 12 teams playing in the Basketball Africa League (BAL) next year. According to Neto, who was part of last year’s Academy exhibition team, there is much to play for at the Ellis Park Arena.

“We always want to win even if we are here to participate. This mindset never changes. We are here for business,” said the floor general. “Some of our alumni, Ruben (Chinyelo) and Thierry (Darlan) played in this competition. We learnt from their experience and we want to put on a show.”

The young prodigy also reflected on representing Angola at the junior continental competition in Madagascar last year.

“It was a great experience. I was one of the youngest players at 16 and playing against 18-year-olds. Also, everyone is here to support you, from the federation, coaches and teammates,” said Neto, who averaged 4.9 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists in the island nation.

His present situation in West Africa is a stepping stone to opportunities. Neto also walks on the shoulders of giants in his home country of Angola.

The golden generation of Carlos Morais and Kikas Gomes, who won multiple AfroBasket titles, are an inspiration to Neto. While the duo spent most of their careers in Angola, Neto on the other hand has cast his vision beyond the shores of his country of birth.

Aginaldo Neto third picture
Aginaldo Neto says he and his Academy teammates are for the Elite 16.

“I dream of being one of them and more. My desire is to play overseas, in the NBA or take my talents as far as possible. I want to be greater than them,” said Neto. “They inspired me when I started playing. I used to watch how Carlos Morais executed his pull-up jumpers and how he drove to the rim. Kikas Gomes is a great centre.

“They inspired me to work hard. Because of them and many others, we have 11 Afrobasket championships in Angola.”

Since their last AfroBasket title in 2013, Angola has experienced some lean years, but Neto feels he will be part of the generation that turns the corner.

“We want to be better. I believe my generation has a lot of talent and people should look out for us. We will work hard to reclaim our place on the continent,” concluded Neto.

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African writers have their say about NBA opening night

African Blogtable: 2023-24 NBA Season Tips Off Tonight

The African Blogtable brings together some of the top basketball minds from across the continent to answer some of the most pressing questions ahead of the 2023-24 NBA season opening night.

These are the questions that were posed to the writers:

  • What are you looking forward to the most this season and what are your opening-night predictions for the two matchups featuring the defending champions Denver Nuggets at home against the L.A. Lakers and the Phoenix Suns going up against the Golden State Warriors? 
  • Will we see yet another international league MVP this season or will the MVP be from the US?

Manyehlisa Lehohla & Sindiswa Mabunda (South Africa)

I look forward to seeing how all the different trades have breathed new life into the different teams, such as the new look Phoenix Suns who added Bradley Beal to their roster. There quite a number of injuries last season. In this instalment of NBA, I am excited to see the likes of Khris Middelton back in action and exciting rookie Chet Holmgren. Number 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama looks phenomenal and he’ll breathe life into San Antonio Spurs. I believe that I echo the sentiments of many when I express my enthusiasm about the likes of Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant persistently carving their legacies, defying time and age and still giving us the best of basketball.

I think the Lakers-Denver game will be an intense matchup. My prediction is that the L.A. Lakers will beat the Denver Nuggets on the opening night.  With healthy Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, coupled with the addition of Bradley Beal, the newly formed Big 3 now ranks among the league’s best offensive trios, the Suns will beat the Warriors.

Alex Isaboke, Capital FM (Kenya)

The Lakers are losing. Jokić has had his time but the Nuggets, through Jamal Murray, they are just looking too good… I will go with Kevin Durant winning against his former employer, the Warriors. 

I am looking forward to two things this season: how the Bucks will look with Damian and the return of Zion Williamson.  

And I think we just might see an international MVP once again. I know Jokić will always be in the running, because he is just something else. I would not be surprised if it’s him again, but if not him, it might be Giannis Antetokounmpo.

 

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Amin El Amiri, Le Matin (Morocco)

There are many things to look forward to this upcoming season. I like the depth of the Nuggets, I think they have another title in them. They (Nuggets) were strong throughout the regular and postseason last year. In the East, the Bucks look like the favorites after bringing Damian Lillard to the Deer Herd.

Oddly enough though, my expectations are centered around a rookie and a veteran. Victor Wembanyama’s first season in the league and LeBron James’ 21st campaign. Regarding the opening games, I think the Nuggets and the Warriors can overcome the opposition and start the season with the right mindset.

I think trend of international players winning MVP will continue. If you add Luka Dončić and a record 25 international players participating in this year’s All-Star Weekend, the race to the MVP will be very tough for American players. Yet again, basketball is about challenges and the pride of local stars is still hurting with what happened at the FIBA World Cup. 

Manyehlisa Lehohla & Sindiswa Mabunda, The Big Tip Off (South Africa): I look forward to seeing how all the different trades have breathed new life into the different teams, such as the new look Phoenix Suns who added Bradley Beal to their roster. Injury plagued a large part of last season, so I am excited to see the likes of Khris Middelton back in action, exciting rookies like Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama. I believe that I echo the sentiments of many when I express my enthusiasm about the likes of Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant persistently carving their legacies, defying time and age and still giving us the best of basketball.

I think the Lakers-Denver game will be an intense matchup. My prediction is that the L.A. Lakers will beat the Denver Nuggets on the opening night.  With healthy Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, coupled with the addition of Bradley Beal, the newly formed Big 3 now ranks among the league’s best offensive trios, the Suns will beat the Warriors. 

Tosin Abayomi, Pulse (Nigeria)

Looking forward to the Bucks vs. Celtics Eastern Conference matchup. Excited about the return of the NBA and the several storylines for players and their respective franchises.

For me, it is the battle in the Eastern Conference between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks. Both teams made blockbuster trades this season, but only one will represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Bucks have gone all in with Damian Lillard. But the acquisition of Jrue Holiday by the Celtics brings added pressure for the Celtics to win the title.

My opening-night predictions? The Lakers have expressed disappointment with how the Denver Nuggets celebrated their sweep in the Western Conference semifinals en route to their first NBA Championship. When they match up on the opening night, it won’t matter. The Nuggets are the better side and should comfortably take care of the Lakers after receiving their championship rings.

The other opening game between the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors should be a masterclass on the offensive end of the court. Kevin Durant returning to face the Warriors for the first time since he left should be a treat. The Suns will also be too strong for the Warriors missing their best defender in Draymond Green and trying to integrate Chris Paul into their system.

Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder) will put up big numbers, but their teams stand no chance of topping the Western Conference. That means Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets) should be the favourite  to be MVP. But the sleeper pick will be an American in Jayson Tatum. Tatum is surrounded by elite talent at Boston. Kristaps Porzingis, Jaylen Brown, Holiday, and Derrick White. If the Celtics take the number one seed in a weaker Eastern Conference, Tatum could win his first MVP trophy.

Mor Bassine Niang, Sports News Africa (Senegal)

I think we are going to see a crazy 2023-2024 season. All the franchises have prepared well and made clever trades.  Milwaukee will be a tough competitor with Antetokounmpo and Lillard.

The season opener featuring the Lakers and the Nuggets is a rematch of the Western Conference Finals. I think the LeBron James and the Lakers will want their revenge. I see them getting a W on opening night.  The Suns-Warriors game will be a well contested matchup where both franchises will want to mark their territory after their disappointing 2022-2023 season exits.

The NBA always has surprises in store for us. But I think an international player will take the league MVP, perhaps Jokić or Dončić?  They are complete players and they’ve proved it over the past few seasons.

My MVP candidate for this season is Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics. Why? I love a good underdog story. In every NBA season, Brown has exceeded expectations and played consistently at a high level, and I believe this is his MVP year.

Damas Sikuwabo, The New Times (Rwanda) 

It’s going to be quite a competitive season. I am looking forward to key players showing up for the games and cutting down on their load management in order to make the season more interesting.

The opening day will be action-packed. I think Denver and GSW will win their games.

Denver went 3-2 in the pre-season against the Bulls, Clippers and Suns. In addition to this, they are the defending champions and therefore come into this season with a lot of confidence. I think they will beat the Lakers, who have to fix some defensive issues and the rotation, besides struggling with chemistry.

After acquiring CP3 who will be playing alongside Steph and Klay, they have such a great combination of guards. In addition to this, Kuminga, who was in top form during the preseason, will be important their entire season. That being said, I see GSW taking the W.

We can see another international MVP. We have lots of great international players who can pull off a great season. Giannis, Dončić and Jokić are in their prime and it won’t be a surprise to see an international MVP. Furthermore, if the preseason is anything to go by, we are seeing more of the international players come into the picture. Such players are in teams with better rosters, and this gives them equal chances with their American counterparts.

The 2023-24 NBA regular season will tip off in the early hours of Wednesday, 25 October (Tuesday night) with a doubleheader on NBA League Pass when the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets host the Los Angeles Lakers in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals (1:30 a.m. CAT), followed by the Phoenix Suns visiting the Golden State Warriors (4 a.m. CAT).  All the NBA games of the 2023-24 NBA season, live and on demand, and more, are available on NBA League Pass.

Photo: (credit NBAE/Getty Images)

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Kita: A selfless servant of the African basketball community

“DOC brought in the leader of a basketball organization from South Africa, who told us that, in his community, people constantly reached out to anyone who was in need.”

This is an extract from former NBA legendary sharpshooter Ray Allen’s biography From The Outside: My Journey through Life and the Game I Love. The shooting guard was reflecting on one of the catalysts for their title-winning season at the Boston Celtics in the 07-08 season.

The leader and two-time NBA champion Allen was referring to in his autobiography was Thierry Kita Matungulu, a respected coach in the South African basketball scene. Commonly known as Kita, he was the co-founding director of Hoops 4 Hope, and had spent time working in the United States. 

Kita was also part of the inner sanctum of the Doc Rivers-coached Celtics, where he introduced a concept that helped hoist a 17th NBA championship banner in the team’s rafters at TD Garden.  

From Lubumbashi to starring in the PBL

Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kita, had travelled to South Africa in the 90s with the raw skill of basketball in tow. At first, Kita saw the country as a stop gap to his ambition of studying in the United States. Fortuitously, his stay in South Africa extended and as his game refined. He’d go on to have professional career in the defunct Professional Basketball League (PBL). 

When he hung up his sneakers, he became a selfless servant of basketball and contributed to its growth in Mzansi. And throughout his involvement in basketball, he has not put a ceiling on how far he can go.

Thierry Kita Matungulu second picture
Thierry Kita Matungulu has invested most of his life in basketball. Pictures: The BTO

Speaking to the Big Tip Off during the Royal Bafokeng JR NBA finals in Rustenburg, South Africa, Kita gave a light chuckle when asked about himself, a sign of his easygoing nature.

“I got into basketball at a late stage in Lubumbashi. There were signs of me becoming a young prospect in Congo. When I came to South Africa, I started flourishing,” said Kita, who joined the All Stars when he first arrived in South Africa. “Initially, when I came here (South Africa), I was transiting. I was preparing to go and study in the United States. Unfortunately, the visa process did not work out and I stayed.”

While the door to attend school in the United States closed, the opportunity to play in the new South African league opened for Kita. While the notion was that South African basketball was picking up only during the PBL era, he dispelled that.

“Basketball (in South Africa) had picked up. The league had enough competitive South Africans, including NBA players and European players. We had Craig Gilchrist, a great South African player, Sam Vincent and Lewis Lloyd, who were NBA players. So, it was a remarkable time,” said the former Egoli Magic player. “It (the PBL) did not need to pick up. It was already at the highest level.”

Becoming coach Kita

The former power forward’s next transition was coaching. During Kita’s time as Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s men’s first team coach, from the early 2000s, the program was a force in the Western Cape. 

He also had a stint as the national team coach of the South African men’s university team and achieved one of the country’s best results at that level, at the World University Games in Daegu, South Korea.

“Those were terrific times. I was able to mould young players, who were in their teens at the time. The likes of Vincent Ntunja and Junior Ongenda grew right before my eyes. I am proud of what they have become and done with their lives,” said Kita, a former senior men’s national team coach. 

“I also coached South African teams in four world student games. One of the best results we had was a second-round appearance in 2003. In that team, we had the likes of Neo Mothiba, Quintin Denyssen, Vince Ntunja and Mthoko Madonda. It was a great team. I don’t think any team has surpassed its achievements.”

 

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Kita brings Ubuntu to the Boston Celtics

The United States finally called for Kita. In the US, he spent his time coaching in elite youth camps. His timing of transitioning overseas could not have been more impeccable. 

During a fundraising event at the youth camps, the pathway to contributing to the Boston Celtics’ successful 07-08 season was in the works.

“After my experience in South Africa, I took a coaching role with Boston Celtics. I was there for ten years working as a guest coach and helped to conduct camps. I used to work at Five-Star and the Eastern Invitational Camps. These were the best camps in the US,” said Kita. 

“From there, I was fortunate enough to sit at the same table as Doc Rivers and Larry Brown during a fundraiser for an organization I co-founded, Hoops 4 Hope. It was also a chance for me to engage with them about working with their teams.”

Kita had built a good rapport with Rivers and this created a pathway for him to integrate into the Celtics’ set-up. There, he introduced the African concept of Ubuntu: ‘I am because we are’, which proved to be a masterstroke.

“I got along well with Doc Rivers. Using this as a basis, I could present the team with the concept of Ubuntu, the idea of togetherness, which they later adopted and won the championship,” said Kita.

“To this day, the word Ubuntu is engraved on the Celtics championship rings.”

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Thierry Kita Matungulu played an impactful role in the 07-08 title success of the Celtics. Picture: Supplied

The NBA Africa front-office

Nowadays, Kita serves as Director of Basketball Operations at NBA Africa. His current role involves a lot of travel across the continent doing developmental work.

Kita says one of the reasons he is in his present position is because of the work he has done locally. He also credits Rivers, who had since moved to the Clippers, for helping to broaden his horizons. 

“While working with Doc Rivers, I built a lot of contacts and relationships within the NBA. I am also one of a handful of people who has attended all 19 Basketball Without Borders Camps. I have  contributed to their success,” said Kita. 

“So when the NBA opened its office in South Africa, I was hired by Amadou Gallo Fall, because of the work I was doing in the basketball developmental space. And with that opportunity, I knew I could have a greater impact because of their (NBA Africa) reach.

“Also, there is no ceiling of what your production will be. Working in South Africa with the various national teams, it was a new level. Of course, there was the experience with the Celtics. When Doc Rivers moved to the Clippers and was president of basketball operations, I learnt how things are done in front offices. So, I never stop learning.”

With all his transitions in the game, what has been Kita’s big takeaway? And does he have any regrets?

“Maybe I could have played in Europe given the skillset I possessed, but I don’t dwell on that. I always look forward to the next step in life and focus on making that a success. I have given a lot more than I have received, which has put me in a good place. So, I am happy,” concluded Kita.

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Chomche talks BAL, representing Cameroon and future prospects

STANDING at 2.11m (6ft11), Ulrich Chomche towers over almost everyone on the basketball court. But it’s not just his statuesque figure that makes him a rising star in the game. His incredible talent, dedication to his craft, and humility has seen him grace some of the biggest stages. 

The Cameroonian-born baller is among the young top prospects at the NBA Academy in Senegal and given his experience at a young age, the road ahead looks promising. Seventeen-year-old Chomche already has two Basketball Africa League (BAL) seasons under his belt having played for home club Force Armees et Police (FAP) last year and Rwanda’s REG this year.

Last year, he scooped the Defensive Player Award at the 2022 Basketball Without Borders camp in Cairo, Egypt. At home has his talent has not gone unnoticed, as he suited up for Cameroon in major qualifying tournaments. 

In this interview with The Big Tip Off, Chomche talks about his journey to the NBA Academy, his goals, and wearing the red, green and gold of Cameroon.

Ulrich Chomche second picture
Ulrich Chomche has played in two seasons of the BAL. Picture: The BTO

Mentorship and Coaching

Chomche’s basketball story started in the small village of Bafang, situated in the West of Cameroon. Like many youngsters on the continent, he enjoyed playing soccer with his friends, a sport he still enjoys. But the shift to basketball occurred when one of his coaches saw that his height would be more valuable on the court than the soccer field.

This brought about the opportunity to join the NBA Africa Academy, which had recently opened in Saly, Senegal. Chomche was thrilled to be selected for the academy, as it offered him an opportunity to reach his full potential as a basketball player.

Of course the opportunity to leave home for Senegal initially excited Chomche. He was taking a step to realising his dreams. However, this excitement was tempered by the realisation that he would be leaving his mother as well as his siblings. “Leaving my family to join the NBA academy was a mix of excitement and difficulty because it was my first time leaving my village to go somewhere else and I was very young.”

Fortunately, the weight of the huge decision did not deter him. He promptly continued to work with his two coaches, Jordan Atangana and Goodlove Cham, until he left for the Academy in Senegal. Under their guidance, he developed his skills and honing his game in all aspects in preparation for what was still to come.

The value of international competition

Chomche’s experience at the NBA Academy has been nothing short of transformative. He has had the opportunity to learn from some of the best coaches and trainers in the world, and he has also had the chance to showcase his skills on multiple stages across the continent and abroad.

“Competition in Africa is different,” he said. “The rules are not the same. In Africa we play at a faster pace, as compared to the US where the game is a lot calmer. There is a lot of 1-on-1 or Iso Play in the US whereas in Africa there is a lot more team play. Both have contributed to my growth as a basketball player.”

In addition to his work at the NBA Academy, Chomche has also benefited from his participation in Basketball Without Borders (BWB) camps. At the BWB Global camp in Utah, he had the opportunity to learn from and compete against some of the best young players in the world.

Chomche’s experience in the BAL Elevate Program has been another important step in his development as a basketball player. This past season, he played for the Rwanda Energy Group (REG), which was also the host team of the Playoffs. REG fought hard, but they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the eventual champions, Egypt’s Al Ahly. However, this outcome did not damper the teen’s spirits too much as he used the games as a litmus test for his abilities.

“It was a great experience, and I learned a lot from those games. For me, it was more about learning how basketball is played at that level and understanding how the skill set that I developed at the academy can transfer into the game with experienced players.”

Chomche’s performance during the BAL season was impressive. He averaged 4.5 points, 1 steal, and 1 block in 19 minutes per game. His performances on the court garnered attention from former NBA star, Joakim Noah. He is also on the radar of some NCAA Division I colleges.

Chomche roaring with the Indomitable Lions

Chomche’s journey is just beginning, but it has already led him back to where it all began: Cameroon. He recently received his second national team call-up for the Olympic Pre-Qualifiers, held in Nigeria in August.

“Representing Cameroon on the stage of the Olympic qualifiers was an incredible honour,” Chomche said. “It was a moment of immense pride for me to wear my country’s jersey. The experience was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking as we faced strong teams, all vying for a spot at the Olympics.”

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Ulrich Chomche playing for the NBA Academy during the BAL Elite 16 Qualifiers. Picture: The BTO

Cameroon punched their ticket to the qualifiers after beating Senegal. Next year (February) in Paris, Chomche and his teammates have to overcome another Olympic qualifying hurdle. It’s a challenge he looks forward to as he is always proud represent the Indomitable Lions.

“Being part of the national team allowed me to showcase my skills at an international level. I have also competed against some of the best basketball players in the world,” Chomche said. “The atmosphere, the pressure, and the sense of national pride were all incredibly motivating.

Cameroon has produced a few big names in the game. So, a path has been set for Chomche to follow. He has a good structural support and with his country rooting for him, it could be a matter of time before Ulrich Chomche ascends to the pinnacle of basketball, the NBA.

“My first ambition is to continue to grow as a player. I am always working with my coaches at the NBA Academy. The work I put in will show every time step on the floor. My big brothers Joel [Embiid], Pascal [Siakam], and [Christian] Koloko have shown us young Cameroonians that it is possible. I believe in hard work and I’m ready to follow in their footsteps and make it to the NBA,” concluded Chomche.

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