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Patriots to fight for the pride of Rwanda at the BAL

 Can Patriots win the BAL at home?

ITS been two weeks since Basketball Africa League (BAL) president, Amadou Gallo Fall, announced the tournament’s resumption. The dust may have settled since Gallo Fall’s announcement, but it is understandable that the teams and players involved are still excited.

The long-awaited 12-team BAL tournament, will resume in Kigali, Rwanda (May 16) and a player looking forward to it is Aristide Mugabe, captain of  the Patriots Basketball Club, one of Rwanda’s most celebrated players.

Aristide Mugabe in action
Patriots captain Aristide Mugabe believes the team should strive for more than being hosts of the BAL. Picture: FIBA

“It was great to hear the announcement. We were excited then, and the feeling is the same now. Despite the Covid-19 situation, we are grateful that it is finally happening. It is even more special that Rwanda is hosting,” said 33-year-old Mugabe.

While the home comforts come with their perks, like familiarity and passionate supporters, Mugabe is aware it goes beyond that. The shooting guard believes they need to strive for more than carrying the host’s tag.

“We don’t want to be here to participate or host only. We want to win as well. We have qualified, so we face a big challenge to win at home. It takes a lot to win a tournament like BAL. We are competing against the best in Africa,” said the former Rwanda national team captain.

Before qualifying for the main tournament, the Patriots were unbeaten in the preliminary qualifying phase. While this record will not matter when they debut in the NBA backed competition, it is testament to their pedigree. Mugabe highlighted that although they do not have much height in the team, they are a team that moves the ball quickly. They have both young and veteran players who have played at the highest level in basketball.

“Compared to other teams that have height, we are a small team, but we can compete. If you look at our results in the qualifiers, you will see that we were unbeaten. We are a versatile team, and we can play small ball well. We have good team chemistry; we run our offence and defence pretty well, and we mostly play a transitional game,” said Mugabe.

 

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We have young players who are willing to work and go to war, and we have players that have played enough basketball and can lead the team. So we are ready to compete,” said Mugabe, who hinted that the club would look for reinforcements for the tournament. “Hopefully, we can also get some import players that can add size and bring additional skill sets to the team. It is a big tournament, so you can’t expect to win with only your local players. If we go that route, I hope we get the players we need. Players that will get the team to the level it needs to be.”

Mugabe, who has won a combined eight league titles with former club Espoir and Patriots, has garnered a wealth of experience playing on the continental circuit. He along fellow veteran player Kenny Gasana will be looked upon to assume leadership roles as soon as they step on the court.

“We have been here for a while. We have competed against most of the players in this tournament in the Afrobasket and club championships. Our inexperienced teammates need to understand what it takes to compete at this level and they must be ready for any challenge. Anything can happen. You don’t know how other teams have prepared and the playing weapons they have,” said Mugabe, who emphasised togetherness when their campaign begins.

Aristide Mugabe
Aristide Mugabe will offer veteran leadership for Patriots in the BAL tournament.

“We must communicate with the younger players in the team. The advice we give, they could carry to the next stage. We are blessed to have played for a long time. We are blessed to have teammates who respect that. We will use that to come together and face the upcoming challenge.”

Another challenge the Patriots face is not being in match shape. They have not played since defending their league title for the third time last year October. Mugabe says plans have been put in place to get them ready for the inaugural BAL tournament.

“There are pre-season tournaments that will help us to prepare. We will use those tournaments to work towards match fitness. It won’t be at the same level as the BAL but we have to prepare slowly. You can’t go from zero to a hundred in a minute. We have not played in a long time, so we  have to try and avoid injuries. We have to work slowly to get back in match shape,” concluded Mugabe.

It’s not the ideal preparation for the Patriots. Time is a luxury they do not have as the tournament begins in a month. Like patriots, they will have to dig deep to have an impact in the showpiece event seen as a game-changer for the African continent.

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