Al Ahly

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. 

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Will Al Ahly be the first club to retain the BAL title?

AL Ahly are one of the favourites ahead of Season 4 of the Basketball Africa League (BAL). They also head to the tournament as defending champions. The Big Tip Off offers some insights into one of Africa’s premiere teams in basketball.

Team: Al Ahly

Country: Egypt

History: One of Egypt’s great sporting institutions, Al Ahly has seven Egyptian Super League titles, 11 Egyptian Cup trophies, and four continental titles.

The Egyptian giants won the Basketball Africa League Season 3 title, a FIBA Africa Clubs Champions Cup and two African Basketball Cup Winners Cups. 

Al Ahly Basketball Club
Ehab Amin embraces coach Agustì Julbe after the final of last year’s BAL. Pictures: FIBA

Route To BAL: Egypt are one of six countries whose clubs have direct entry to the BAL, and as champions of their country, Al Ahly will defend the (BAL) title they won last year in their debut season.

Coach: Spanish coach Agustì Julbe will lead Al Ahly in their quest to defend their title. During his coaching career, Julbe has contributed to winning titles as an assistant coach. As head coach, he has also delivered silverware.

While at Barcelona, he contributed to a Euroleague trophy, three ACB League titles, three Spanish Cup trophies and three Spanish Super Cups as an assistant coach.

As coach of Zamalek, he won a league and cup, and when he took over the reins at Al Ahly, Julbe won back-to-back league and cup titles.

In the inaugural season of the BAL, he led Al Ahly’s rivals, Zamalek, to the championship. He did likewise with Al Ahly last year.

Star Player: Ahab Amin is one of the stars of the Egyptian game. The Egyptian international was one of Al Ahly’s leading scorers in their BAL title-winning season last year. 

The shooting guard averaged 12.7 points per game. He was among the team’s top players in other statistical categories. Amin averaged 3.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds, and led the team in steals (averaging 1.9).

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Al Ahly carry a weight of expectation at the BAL

Julbe expects a competitive Ferroviario outfit

AL Ahly are a team familiar with success and the weight of expectation to always win continues in a similar vein.

On Wednesday night at Hassan Mostafa Arena, Al Ahly, one of Egypt’s storied teams and hosts of the Basketball Africa League’s (BAL) Nile Conference, will also be making a first appearance in season three of the continent’s elite league.

Despite being newbies to the competition, it is understandable why Al Ahly would be deemed the favourite to emerge from their conference and contend for the BAL title.

Said Saifeldin
Al Ahly captain Said Saifeldin says his team is motivated to win the BAL. Pictures: The BTO

The name they carry, their six Egyptian Super League titles, their ten Egyptian Cup trophies, and solitary continental club championship testify to the club’s greatness.

In Agustin Julbe, Al Ahly have a coach who has been through demanding situations, and who understands the pressure to succeed on the Egyptian club.

The Spaniard’s won the first edition of the BAL with his current team’s eternal rivals, Zamalek. On Wednesday night, as Al Ahly begin their BAL journey against Ferroviario de Beira of Mozambique, they will know anything less than replicating Zamalek’s feats is a failure.

“Pressure will always be there. There is pressure from the environment, the club and the fans. There is also internal pressure we are placing on ourselves. It’s always there, but we are excited to be here. It’s Al Ahly’s first time in the competition, and I am happy we have this opportunity,” said Julbe at the press briefing at Hassan Mostafa Arena on Tuesday.

“I don’t know how Ferroviario will look like, but it is also the same with the other teams. They all made some adjustments going into this BAL. So, it is difficult to say what they will do, but I expect them to be competitive like they were in the Road To BAL.

“I know the coach, and I know their system. They will be a tough team, but I expect the best from ourselves as we also want to win.”

Team captain Said Seifeldin is also aware of the demands of participating in the BAL and believes the experience of Julbe will help them navigate the new terrain.

“As players of this team, we always strive to compete and win. We want to make our fans happy by trying to win all the games and competitions. The experience of our coach and that of our players will help us. Hopefully, at the end of the day we can make our fans happy by winning this tournament,” the Al Ahly skipper.

Seifeldin also spoke on his team’s chemistry ahead of Nile Conference. He believes that because of the time they spent together as players, the atmosphere within the squad is exceptional. He hopes this will provide them with a conducive platform for Al Ahly to win the BAL.

“As teammates, we have played together for a number of years. We were friends off the court before we became friends on it,” said Seifeldin. “We hope to win this tournament. It is the only trophy that is missing. We are motivated because the competition has a big brand behind it, and hopefully it will push us to win it.”

 

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