Cape Town Tigers

Tigers shock Petro and give themselves a lifeline

SATURDAY’S sold-out match at Sun Bet Arena saw the Cape Town Tigers secure their first Kalahari Conference win after defeating Petro de Luanda 84-78.

The Tigers started the Basketball Africa League encounter with a high level of aggression – which was unusual for them. They were able to match the intensity of Petro in the paint and reduce their turnovers. The Tigers played as a team, shared the ball, and the result saw them lead every quarter for the first time in the tournament.

Cartier Diarra led all scorers in the first half, scoring 12 points and dishing out five assists. Storm Gilchrist shook off his rookie title and made major contributions at both ends of the floor before he sustained an injury.

During the post-match presser, Tigers coach Florsheim Ngwenya noted Gilchrist’s injury as an ankle sprain. In the end, Billy Preston’s 11-point second-half performance sealed the deal for the Tigers.

Ngwenya credited his team’s level of concentration until the final buzzer sounded. “This shows that with the proper preparation, we give ourselves a chance to hang with the best of them,” said the Tigers coach.

Storm Gilchrist injury
Storm Gilchrist clutches his left ankle after injury during the match against Petro. Pictures: The BTO

Dylan Whitbred, who had a 12-point performance off the bench, acknowledged the fans for cheering the team on against the memorable victory against Petro.

“Having the fans here is an incredible experience. I try to tell the guys and remind everyone who comes to watch me play that it is an absolute pleasure to have them in the arena. I do not take that for granted,” said Whitbred. “So we come out with a lot of heart and played for the fans… Because it’s all about them. I am glad we were able to pull out this win.”

Petro de Luanda has had a difficult season, and the outcome of their final conference game reflects this. José Neto, the coach, expressed dissatisfaction with the team’s performance, stating they did not play to their usual standard.

“The team isn’t here. The players are but Petro isn’t here,” says Neto. “Throughout the tournament, different players have stood out but we didn’t play together as a team and that is a surprise to me too.”

Last night’s game was no different. Neto, who took responsibility for the two losses, pointed out that despite the game’s statistics, he believed the Tigers wanted it more.

“The game is not about numbers, it is about who is hungrier and Cape Town [Tigers] were hungrier than us,” said Neto. “The Tigers played well enough to win. The numbers are not that different to me but they had more spirit.”

Petro had many moments where they looked like a shell of themselves and struggled from the three – which has historically been a strong suit of theirs. They were also out-rebounded (50/45).

“We didn’t respect the Tigers enough to show up and do what needed to be done and the results show that,” said Neto.

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Where to now for the Cape Town Tigers?

FLORSHEIM Ngwenya gave an honest and brutal assessment of things at the Cape Town Tigers following a third straight loss in their Basketball Africa League Kalahari Conference campaign.

The Tigers found themselves wanting in the game against the Moroccan club, FUS Rabat and succumbed to an 84-58 loss.

Cracks showing in the Tigers Camp 

As things stand for the Tigers, their chances of making the playoffs in Kigali hang in the balance. Ngwenya apologized to the South African fans for their underwhelming performance so far. 

“First of all, I’d like to apologize to the fans and South Africa in general who have paid their money to come watch us play. I think we didn’t do justice to all of those people,” said Ngwenya during a post match conference. 

Billy Preston in action
Billy Preston’s talent is undeniable, but his attitude has often been criticised. Pictures: The BTO

The Tigers did not look like a cohesive unit and struggled to find open shots, play defence, and pass the ball effectively. Ngwenya believes that Rabat was the better team on the night. 

Coach Ngwenya criticized his team for a lack of effort, stating that it was also out of their control, hinting at their inadequate preparation leading up to the Kalahari Conference. 

“It was not an ideal situation. We only had two weeks of preparation compared to guys who have had six to seven months of preparation. As the saying goes ‘Ball don’t lie’ and it showed,” said Ngwenya. 

Tigers had eleven assists as opposed to FUS, who had twenty-six assists. The team also accumulated twenty turnovers to add to their woes. 

The cracks in the team dynamic started to show when Billy Preston Jr had a back-and-forth in the first half with team owner Raphael Edwards. The talented, but individualistic Preston seemed to have ignored team instructions, which led to his substitution. He would eventually sit out for the rest of the game.

Preston is not new to the team, having played in the second season of the BAL with the Tigers in 2022.

His return to the Tigers was meant to provide them with some much-needed firepower for the BAL, but this seems short-lived. Also, if Ngwenya’s words are anything to go by, Preston could be out of the team.

“Once you check out on us, we find somebody to replace you. I don’t care who you are, but you can’t check out on your team right in the middle of a war,” added Coach Ngwenya.  

The Tigers coach lamented the constant roster changes, which over time have affected the team’s preparations for the BAL. 

“These things are not up to me. I’m just a basketball coach. I’m here to put X’s and O’s. I have no control over what happens in the boardroom,” added Coach Ngwenya.

 

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FUS Rabat continuing with dominance 

Speaking about their approach to the game with the Tigers, FUS head coach, Said El Bouzidi said the win came because of their unity and work in the paint. 

“We tried to shoot like the team from Angola (Petro de Luanda), but we are not as good a shooting team as them. When we started to play like a unit and work in the paint, we were successful. The stats showed how efficient we were in the paint,” said coach El Bouzidi. The Moroccans dominated and scored 68 points in the paint. Aliou Diarra led the scoring for FUS with 21 points and was 10/11 in field goals. 

Verdict

While FUS are looking good for a run at the playoffs, the Tigers are in need of deep soul-searching.

Where to now for the Cape Town Tigers? Read More »

FUS and Dynamo steal the show on opening night

THE opening night of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) dished up upsets, with home club Cape Town Tigers and tournament favourites Petro de Luanda, suffering defeats to Dynamo Basketball Club and FUS Rabat respectively.

Game 1: FUS Rabat’s bench steals the show

In their debut game in the BAL’s Kalahari conference, FUS de Rabat defeated Petro de Luanda 82-73, handing them their third straight loss. Soufiane Benmhine, reflecting on the game, credited the team’s success to their awareness of their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

“The key was to respect Petro but not to fear them. Every player respected their role, including those on the bench,” said Benmhine. Jonathan Jordan led the charge for FUS, scoring 17 points, while Aliou Diarra, the 2023 Defensive Player of the Year, picked up where he left off in Season 3 with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

BAL Action
Yanick Moreira efforts were not enough as Petro fell to FUS Rabat. Pictures: The BTO

Petro de Luanda, who is usually a good shooting team, struggled to create the space they needed on the floor to play their game. As a result, only two players put up double digits. “Tonight was not a good game. We got killed on offence and defence. We struggled to play as a team while the other team did,” Petro coach Jose Neto.

In the third quarter, Petro seemed to gain momentum, sparked by some steals by Childe Dundao, which led to back-to-back threes from Carlos Morais. Unfortunately, this was short-lived as the team closed out the quarter at an 11-point deficit.

Despite this defeat, Morais is still confident in his team’s ability to bounce back in their next game against the hosts, The Cape Town Tigers.

“We were very unlucky, but we have only lost one game. Our focus is to qualify for Kigali, and this loss does not change that,” said  Morais.

Game 2: Dynamo spoils Tigers’ local debut

In a fully packed arena, Burundi’s Dynamo Basketball Club spoiled the Cape Town Tigers’ home opener with a 86-73 win. The Tigers struggled to share the ball and settled for desperate shots in the first half, going 5/18 beyond the arc and giving up 22 points in the paint. Which them at a 15-point deficit by halftime.

Despite a full-court press effort and some electrifying plays in the third by Samkelo Cele (26 points) and Billy Preson Jr (18 points), which cut the lead down to 6, the team lost momentum as they became careless with the ball, leading to them being down 13 points by the end of the third.

BAL Action
Samkelo Cele played a starring role for the Tigers, who came up short against Dynamo.

“We did a good job of penetrating the paint, but that counts for nothing if we cannot convert. We didn’t protect the ball and struggled to play defence for a full 24 seconds,” remarked Cele.

Dynamo’s coach Julien Chaignot credited his players’ readiness for the moment. The French coach also acknowledged the importance of winning the first game, which is a good first step for the rest of the competition.

In the post-game presser, Burundi’s Bryton Hobbs spoke about the hard grind that brought them here, including training outdoors for six weeks, sometimes three times a day in the rain.

“We built chemistry over those six weeks, which has made us a tight-knit team. We are here to win.”

Hobbs’ 17 first-half points gave Dynamo a comfortable lead. However, his finesse and leadership shined bright in the second half as he got some good looks and dished out 7 assists.

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Selepe looks forward to exciting new chapter in SA basketball

LEBESA Selepe, the co-captain of the Cape Town Tigers, hopes his third season at South Africa’s premier basketball club will be a charm as they prepare for elite competition at home.

At an open media practice held at the Mandeville Sports Complex, a week ahead of Season 4 of the Basketball Africa League (BAL), The Big Tip Off caught up with Selepe, who spoke about his journey with the Tigers, representing the South African men’s national team, and the Tigers’ preparation for the BAL’s Kalahari Conference.

The conference begins on Saturday at the SunBet Arena in Pretoria, and the Tigers face off against Burundi’s Dynamo Basketball Club (7 pm CAT) in the last game of the opening night.

Lebesa Selepe at the Maslow
Lebesa Selepe is excited about the BAL expanding to South Africa. Pictures: The BTO

The Tigers gave the public a glimpse of the team during an open practice. While their preparation has been minimal, something Selepe acknowledges, he feels the little they have could suffice. 

“The difference now in our preparation is that previously we had a lot more time, but I think that things are coming together naturally and we are comfortable with what we have,” says 32-year-old Selepe. “We have cut it short but a little preparation is better than no preparation at all.”

The two-time national club champions had one practice match the day after their media day, which was against Jozi Nuggets. Before that, Selepe and six of his Tigers teammates were part of the South African national team that came up short against Mozambique in a two-leg 2025 AfroBasket pre-qualifier in Maputo two weeks ago.

Despite the disappointment, Selepe says the trip to Mozambique helped build the mental toughness required in international play.

“International basketball will either make you or break you. You play in hostile conditions like Mozambique on a back-to-back in front of a jam-packed crowd,” says Selepe. “We went there and we fought, unfortunately, we fell short. We left with our heads held high because we represented our country to the best of our ability.”

 

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Despite narrowly missing out on qualification for the continental championship, it seems the trip to Mozambique had a positive effect on the Tigers players who were part of the national team. It also showed in the way they practised at Mandeville.

The South African Champions showed some promising flashes during their practice run, and with local players like Samkelo Cele and Nkosinathi Sibanyoni taking on more responsibility, it is clear that this team is different from what we have seen before.

In typical Tigers style, the 12-man squad has brought some surprises, including the return of Billy Preston and some fresh faces. The new additions of Ngor Manyang, Storm Gilchrist and Deshawndre Washington have been welcomed into the Tigers’ family, as Selepe describes it.

“Billy Preston, who was one of our leading scorers during his last stint with us, is back. He is an incredibly talented player and we expect him to pick up right where he left off,” says Selepe. “He’s looking as sharp as ever, but with the added benefit of experience and a higher basketball IQ due to his age. I’m happy to have him back.”

Lebesa Selepe at the playoffs
Lebesa Selepe is confident the Tigers will do well despite the short time to prepare for the BAL Kalahari Conference. Picture: FIBA

The former Jozi Nuggets player feels he has grown as a player and leader in the team.

“I am a lot more comfortable now, playing basketball at this level as compared to when I first joined the Cape Town Tigers,” says Selepe. “Although I had been playing basketball, at the time, I was still working a 9-5 too, but now my work is basketball. I know where my strengths lie and I am not trying to do too much.”

As Selepe and Tigers welcome Petro de Luanda, FUS Rabat, and Dynamo to the nation’s capital, he feels the arrival of the Kalahari Conference is just what the doctor ordered.

“It was only a matter of time before something this big happened. I am glad it’s happening while I am still able to run up and down the floor,” says Selepe. “For some people, this opportunity came when they had already retired and closed this chapter of their career.”

Selepe looks forward to exciting new chapter in SA basketball Read More »

Ngwenya confident Tigers will fly SA flag in Kalahari Conference

FLORSHEIM Ngwenya has been a busy coach. After his recent travails with the national team, he has this week to put the finishing touches to the Cape Town Tigers ahead of a momentous occasion in South African basketball.

The Tigers, last year’s BNL champions, will welcome four teams to the newly minted Kalahari Conference of the young Basketball Africa League (BAL), tipping off at the SunBet Arena in Pretoria (March 9 – 17).

After seeing South Africa, disappointingly lose out to Mozambique in the AfroBasket pre-qualifiers late last month in Maputo, the Tigers coach maintained an upbeat mood as Season 4 of the 12-team BAL is a few sleeps away.

In his usually collected demeanour during interviews, Ngwenya felt confident his team is ready for the inaugural Kalahari Conference.

“I am excited. The (AfroBasket) pre-qualifiers were a jumpstart to the basketball season. Now we are ready to roll with the BAL,” said Ngwenya, who spoke at his team’s media day on Friday at the Mandeville Sports Complex in Johannesburg. “Most of these guys were part of the team in the pre-qualifiers, so we are ready.”

Florsheim Ngwenya at Tigers practice
Florsheim Ngwenya says the AfroBasket qualifiers helped jumpstart the Tigers’ season. Pictures: The BTO

Looking back at the short trip to Mozambique, Ngwenya intimated the importance of representing the country. And regardless of the circumstances, the experienced coach says leading the national team is always an honour.

“It felt good. Anytime you represent your country, it’s a privilege. Whether you have a month or two days to prepare, the bottom line is that you are representing the country. Wearing the flag, so you got to take pride in that,” said Ngwenya. It’s been seven years since the country last competed. It was a good outing for the guys. I think it was unfortunate we did not win the whole thing, but it’s a start of good things to come.”

The focus is now on the BAL, and Ngwenya is impressed with how things are taking shape within the team. He also reminded the players that they are doing duty for the country.

“Today (Friday) is for media, but we have put in the hard yards. The players are looking sharp. It’s up to them now to fly the country’s flag higher,” said the former Egoli Magic coach. We will play strong opposition, but we are home. It should count for something.

“With the new format as well… Playing each team twice, you can afford to win one here and lose one there. You can always go back the drawing board and make adjustments for the next game.”

 

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The Tigers have also made some player moves, with Billy Preston returning to the team. Cartier Diarra, who played for the Tigers in last year’s Road To BAL Elite 16, is also back. South Sudan’s Ngor Manyang has also been roped in for the Tigers’ BAL cause.

Ngwenya took a pragmatic tone on the player movement.

“The roster will always change because players get offers from elsewhere or we get better players than what we have. That is the nature of the business,” said Ngwenya. “We are getting the new guys up to speed on how we play. Luckily, we have smart players who pick up things quickly. So it bodes well for us.”

Of the local contingent, one of the additions made to the Tigers roster is centre Storm Gilchrist. The teenage centre, the son of the legendary Craig Gilchrist, debuted for the national team in Mozambique, and he has a chance to experience the BAL.

Ngwenya says Gilchrist’s inclusion to the Tigers will benefit South Africa.

“Him (Gilchrist) being here is great for the country. It’s great for basketball. It tells young players, ‘If you put in the work, you will get the reward’,” said Ngwenya. “He just needs to do what he does best. Make his mistakes and we correct them. It is part of his growth.”

Florsheim Ngwenya
Florsheim Ngwenya says South Africa’s basketball structures need to be organised for the country’s game to move forward.

Ngwenya also spoke on the growth benefits of South Africa getting to host the Kalahari Conference leg of the BAL.

“This speaks volumes about what we can do as a host country. We have hosted the rugby, football, cricket and netball World Cups,” said Ngwenya. “It says to basketball people in South Africa, ‘If we put in the work to make all our structures functional, then good things will happen.

“It’s also great for our fans. They have a chance to see us play at home. Any kid or fan can see us play here than to watch us on TV play away.”

As Ngwenya and the Tigers await Petro de Luanda, FUS Rabat, and Dynamo BBC, they will hope fans come in their numbers to witness a grand milestone in South African basketball.

Ngwenya confident Tigers will fly SA flag in Kalahari Conference Read More »

Can Cape Town Tigers roar into contention for BAL title?

THE Cape Town Tigers are a young club on the African basketball scene. They head to Season 4 of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) as hosts of the Kalahari Conference, where they hope to improve on their past performances. The Big Tip Off previews the South African team ahead of the BAL.

Team: Cape Town Tigers

Country: South Africa

History: The Tigers are one of South Africa’s youngest clubs. Founded in 2019, the team has garnered much attention for its success in the past four years. They will be making their third appearance in the BAL.

The Tigers have won two South African National titles, one Basketball National League (BNL) title and two Road to BAL Division East Championships.

Florsheim Ngwenya
Tigers coach Florsheim Ngwenya is a proven winner and is well-versed in international basketball. Pictures: FIBA

The South African side has had its fair share of stars adorn their roster, with most recently having former OKC Thunder player Josh Hall and Zaire Wade, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Dwayne Wade, suited up for them in Season 3 of the BAL.

But the Tigers have not managed to get past the quarter-finals in their two BAL appearances. Can the third attempt be the charm for them?

The Tigers secured their spot in Season 4 of the BAL through Road to BAL. The South African Champions went undefeated in the tournament and defeated the Oilers in the final game.

Coach: South African coach Florsheim Ngwenya will lead the Tigers in their quest to become a title contender in their third BAL appearance. The experienced Ngwenya previously led the South African National team from 2007 to 2011 as head coach.

He has also won multiple BNL titles as the Head Coach of the Egoli Magic club, making him the most successful coach in BNL history. Ngwenya led the Tigers to two Division East Road to BAL Championships and one BNL title.

Star Player: Samkelo Cele is a standout player on the South African team. As a small forward and guard, his athleticism and high motor impact both ends of the court. He can quickly shift the game’s momentum in favour of the Tigers.

Despite coming off the bench, Cele leads the team in most statistical categories. Cele has averaged 13 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game during the Road to BAL. He was among the best defenders in Season 3 of the BAL and earned a place in the League’s All-Defensive Team.

 

Can Cape Town Tigers roar into contention for BAL title? Read More »

Whitbread talks adversity, education and the BAL

DYLAN Whitbread describes finding basketball at 13 as a life-saving moment for him, especially as he was experiencing great adversity before entering teenagehood. 

As a nine-year-old, his mother held the fort when his father left the family, but a young Dylan needed an outlet to cope with his sense of loss. So, when basketball came into Whitbread’s life, then a King Edward VII pupil, it gave him a second family and would later open avenues beyond his wildest imagination.

“I was blessed to have a mom who did her best for my brother, sister and I. My dad left when I was nine, so finding the game gave me a sense of refuge,” said 29-year-old Whitbread. “When you have your four teammates around and the rest of the squad – you feel like you have a family that supports you and it gives a space to forget about the problems at home.”

The Cape Town Tigers player says his mother is his inspiration. He also credits her for instilling a strong work ethic, which helped him chase his dreams.

“When my dad left, she could have easily given up, and it would have altered our lives. She woke up everyday to go to work and came home late. It was just to put food on the table… and put her kids through school. So I gained that work ethic from her and I also want to make a difference in the world,” said Whitbread.

Dylan Whitbred in action for Tigers
Dylan Whitbread says the BNL’s success hinges on buy-in from players and fans. Pictures: The BTO

As things on the home front stabilised, he experienced an upward trajectory in basketball. Whitbread got to captain the Under-18 Gauteng team and also played for the Under-20 South African team. Another feather on the cap for Whitbread was being part of the 2011 Basketball Without Borders (BWB) class that launched the careers of NBA MVP Joel Embiid.

Whitbread says the experience at the BWB taught him to be ready when opportunities are presented to him – even at the drop of a hat.

“I got the call quite late. I could have done a little more preparation if I had known sooner. It taught me to be prepared and not to wait for those moments to get ready. But I will say it was great getting advice from professional coaches, and you understand what it takes to get there,” said Whitbread. “The NBA is so far away, and the closest you got to it was watching two games a week at 3 a.m. So when you experience something like that (BWB), you can dream and understand what it takes to get there.

“That is why I am excited for the youth because they have the chance to see professional teams, the NBA Academy and the Basketball Africa League (in South Africa). So they have some examples and they can dream big and go for those opportunities,” said Whitbread.

In terms of dreaming big, Whitbread also decided to pursue an education and play basketball in the United States. While the playing part is the most exciting thing for most, Whitbread, who graduated with a BSc in Physics at New York-based Colgate University, is an advocate for education.

Whitbread, a walk-on player at Colgate, understood that sport could change an individual’s economic conditions, but he emphasised being in a classroom can open a myriad of opportunity.

“Any chance you get to travel in life helps change your perspective. It opens up your worldview. As I said earlier, I was at BWB, but when you get to the United States, you learn that basketball is a different machine, and you must understand how that machine works,” said Whitbread.”

“My college experience was great and I went to a fantastic school. I got a good education, and I graduated. I am a big supporter of education because it opens many doors.

“Even for the kids that watch us play… Yes, sport is important. It can be a way out of poverty and other situations, but education is just as important, if not more. I would not trade that experience for anything.”

 

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Since returning to South Africa, Whitbread has continued his playing career in the country’s Basketball National League (BNL). In his spell in the BNL, he turned out for Egoli Magic and later the Tshwane Suns, where he won his first league title last year.

Earlier in the year, he found a new home at the Tigers – a move that broadened his playing horizons. Whitbred got to experience the BAL Nile Conference in Cairo and playoffs in Kigali.

He also won a second BNL title with the Cape team. He reflected on the ups, downs and potential solutions with the league. 

“If you play basketball, it is a gift you have. You have to utilise it. I was initially of the mindset that those challenges were keeping me away from the game,” said Whitbread. “When I spoke to my family and people close to me, they asked me, ‘What are you getting from stepping away’?

“By persevering through those moments, it has given me another opportunity. The frameworks here will improve, but you need buy-in from people. The top players have to play in the league, and that is how it will improve.”

Whitbread also spoke about his first championship at the Suns. “It was fantastic, but I was thinking what is next. I can tell you the novelty of winning a league title wares off quickly. But it did means a lot in terms the work I put in over the years to get to that level,” he said.

Dylan Whitbred in action at the Road To BAL.
Dylan Whitbread feels the Tigers will bring intensity at the BAL next year. Pictures: FIBA

The move to the Tigers, earlier in the year, coincided with the team’s second appearance at the BAL. The competition was, as Whitbread reflected, an “eye opener”. The continental experience has also helped Whitbred change his approach to the game.

“Initially, I was recruiting guys to come join Suns. I had no intention of joining the Tigers, but I got an invite to work out with some of their guys,” said Whitbread. “I think my work ethic was what won the management over. And they were like, ‘listen, why don’t you give it a try’. As someone that wants to grow I would be remiss not to take that opportunity.”

“It (the BAL) was an eye opening experience. Watching it on TV and being there is not the same thing. I wish I had more time to prepare, even though I don’t know what I could have done. After that I went back to the drawing board. I am working with a skills trainer and working on my body.”

Looking ahead, Whitbread and the Tigers will prepare for another BAL adventure next year after they qualified with a 5-0 record at the Road To BAL Elite 16 in November. This time, the expanded tournament sees South Africa hosting the Kalahari Conference.

Whitbread, looks forward to the competition, but he took a pragmatic tone because a lot of change tends take place ahead the BAL. The volatile nature of international basketball has seen players come and go, and this impacts team chemistry.

“When there is a lot of time between when we qualified and when the tournament starts, things can change. We have seen it before where import players return and some don’t. So it’s on us as individuals to stay ready,” said Whitbread. “We will always bring intensity, effort and professionalism. So, wherever we play, I think South Africans will be proud of how we represent the country.

“We want to put South African basketball on the map. I think that is starting to happen. We want to play with pride and as a band of brothers.”

The adversity of his life has shaped him for the challenges of life, the game has and continues to teach him to stay ready and he can be proud of himself for staying focused and reaching for his dreams. 

Whitbread talks adversity, education and the BAL Read More »

Prinsloo’s competitive flame is lit and ready to heat up in Chile

PIETER Prinsloo spoke with a different energy upon his return to South America. The familiar clime of Chile and reuniting with his former club seem to have lit a new flame in the South African big man.

Before his move across the Atlantic, Prinsloo had a fruitful two-and-a-half-year stay at the American-backed Cape Town Tigers, leading them to two Basketball Africa League (BAL) last eight appearances.

The versatile forward also helped the Tigers capture two national club titles (2021 and 2022) and a maiden Basketball National League (BNL) trophy in July. His final act for the team was to help them qualify for the BAL with a 5-0 record during the Elite 16 held in South Africa in November.

Pieter Prinsloo in action for Cape Tigers
Pieter Prinsloo is sad to be missing out on the BAL, especially the Kalahari Conference. Pictures: The BTO and FIBA.

Sadly, the former Marist Red Foxes player will miss out on the expanded BAL, commencing with the new Kalahari Conference in South Africa. While he expressed his sadness at having to miss out on a crowning moment in South African basketball – practical reasons outweighed sentiment.

“Yeah, that is disappointing … Knowing that I will miss the group phase (Kalahari Conference) at home. When it was announced (that the BAL is expanding to South Africa), it made me realise that we had the opportunity to play at home and in front of our fans,” said 31-year-old Prinsloo.

“It’s a tough one… It hit hard. But I understand I have to do what’s best for my career and family. It was not an easy choice and it hits hard that I will not be able to experience the BAL at home.”

Prinsloo says Club Deportivo Universidad de Concepción (UDEC) had kept tabs on him for some time, and when they came knocking again, he gladly opened.

“The club (UDEC) had been in contact with me since September. Before that, in 2021 and last year, they also kept in touch with me, as they needed a player for the Champions League. But I was tied up with the BAL qualifiers,” said Prinsloo. “The coach (Cipriano Nunez) contacted me and asked about my playing situation again… I told him I had a contract until mid-November when the Elite 16 was supposed to start, but the dates changed.

“As soon as we finished the Elite 16, we reconnected. He told me he needed me for the Champions League, but he needed to clear things with management first. Last week Friday, the contract got sorted out with my agent, and on Sunday, I flew out with my family.”

 

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Also, at this stage of his career, a frequent run of games is crucial for him – it is something he felt was missing while he was with the Tigers.

Prinsloo says his new contract at UDEC allows him to compete in Chile’s domestic league and cup tournament. While he is excited about a long-term playing career in the Andean nation, another thrill for Prinsloo is returning to Basketball Champions League Americas.

“Playing on this platform (Champions League) is a tremendous honour for me. My team is in the same group as the (FIBA) Intercontinental (Cup) Champions, Sesi Franca. They beat the BAL champions, Al Ahly, in that tournament. They (Sesi Franca) are the best team in the world,” said Prinsloo. “We are in the same group (as Sesi Franca), and we travel to Brazil next week to play in the first window. I love playing on this stage. The last time I was here, I helped the team win a game and got the MVP. It was a big step in my career.

“So, when I got the opportunity to come back, I was excited. They have their cup competitions and a strong league. The contract they offered me was one I could not refuse. It’s a long-term deal, and I will be playing for eight to nine months. Those are things I was accustomed to before I came back home and I want to get back to that.”

He also believes he will thrive in Nunez’s system, which allows him to play multiple positions.

“The coach here is demanding. He is not strict, but he is intense during practice. He pushes to get the best out of you. And he allows you to play your game within his system. Coach Florsh (Ngwenya) did the same at Tigers,” said Prinsloo. “Our coach knows the value I bring. He has the idea of playing me at the three, four and five positions.

“In competitions like the Champions League, I’ll be playing against 6ft9, 6ft10 and 6ft11 guys… Guys who will play in the positions I spoke about. The coach will expect a lot from me and to affect those spots.”

Pieter Prinsloo in Champions League action
Pieter Prinsloo has reunited with UDEC and looks forward to Champions League basketball.

Prinsloo reflected on his time in South Africa. He felt the Tigers changed the landscape of the game in the country. But he also pointed out that South Africa lagged behind the top nations in basketball on the continent.

“I loved being back in SA. It’s home. The Tigers shifted the culture a little and provided an opportunity for players. Hopefully, the market is open to other organisations to do the same,” said Prinsloo. “We have the BNL, but it is not the same level as leagues in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Rwanda. In those leagues, guys depend on basketball for an income – that is not the case with the BNL. So, the Tigers are trying to help players earn a living from basketball. Hopefully, other organisations will follow.

“The presence of the NBA (in South Africa) and the Kalahari Conference coming next year – shows the game’s potential. When I look back, basketball was not my sport until I left for the States. Now, there are initiatives to try and grow the game and I was a part of that and it is something I am grateful for.”

By bringing his talent and exemplary leadership to South Africa the local game was richer. While there is no doubt that he’ll do well in Chile, the hope is that Prinsloo will return and inspire many with his skill, grit and consummate professionalism.

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Cele talks being a role model and starring as a sixth-man for Tigers

IN the final game of the Road To BAL Elite 16 Division East between the Cape Town Tigers and City Oilers (Uganda) – won by the Tigers last Sunday – the DJ played a familiar tune synonymous with victory in certain sporting quarters, Nkalakatha by Mandoza.

The popular Kwaito classic marked the national rugby team’s – the Springboks – Rugby World Cup triumph in October.  Now courtesy of the Tigers’ third Basketball Africa League qualification, basketball got to enjoy Mandoza’s timeless banger.

Amidst the music and posing for team photos, Tigers’ star player Samkelo Cele went courtside to catch up with former teammates and friends.

He also took a few minutes to engage with some teenage fans before heading to the changeroom to take more team photos. Once there, they popped open and sprayed celebratory champagne. Whilst the celebrations continued in the changeroom, head coach Florsheim Ngwenya, his assistant Vincent Ntunja, team manager Elvis Ukpong, and other Tigers players sprinted to half-court.

As the changing room emptied, Cele was among the last few to leave. After freshening up, he caught up with The Big Tip Off to discuss his role at the Tigers, the support he got upon returning to South Africa, being a role model to younger players, his Elite 16 experience, and how the Tigers can improve their chances in Season 4 of The BAL.

Samkelo Cele celebrating at the Elite 16
Samkelo Cele has embraced his sixth-man role at the Tigers. Pictures: FIBA

Twenty-five-year-old, Cele was impactful at both ends of the court during BAL season 3 and the recently concluded Elite 16. He positively contributed every time he was on the floor, despite taking the sixth-man role – one he fulfilled at this year’s BAL Season 3.

Prior to joining the team, the former Durban High School (DHS) student met with the coaching staff, who explained their expectation of him. He knew he had a much bigger role to play on the team. And even when he is having a bad game, Cele is still the go-to guy.

The electrifying small forward contributes to the bulk of the scoring in most of the games they play. He intimated that he was not concerned about not getting a starting role.

Cele, a former University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma Drovers player, knows he has to continue doing a good job on the court. 

Playing in an arena where you could hear a pin drop on most days, Cele could not help but notice the cheers from a handful of fans who trickled in to watch the Tigers’ games. Whenever the former All-American made a steal, shot from deep, or even threw it down for an electrifying dunk, it drew cheers from the small crowd.

This energy reminded Cele of his DHS days and made him feel at home. However, this time around, the support was a little different.

“When I played here in high school, I never felt the support and now I see it, I feel it and I am trying to embrace it as best as I possibly can,” said Cele who averaged 23 points and three rebounds per game during the Elite 16.

 

 

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He recognized familiar faces and voices from his days at DHS amongst the crowd. One, in particular, was Dali Dzingwa, the general manager of the Basketball National League (BNL). Dzingwa is also his high school best friend’s father.

Cele shared: “Sicelo (Dzingwa) is my best friend and was a teammate in high school. His dad used to be very involved in our games and would talk to us from the sidelines. For the first time in years, when we played the NBA Academy, he called my name from the side and was coaching me again. It felt like high school all over again.”

Cele appreciated the support he received and recognized the impact it had on aspiring basketball players. Reflecting on his journey, he acknowledges the lack of role models for him to follow. Now he is grateful to be in a position where he can inspire and guide the next generation.

“I think that it is good for the kids coming up to see me being one of the main guys on the team. Them being able to interact with me has been cool,” said Cele.

In preparation for the Elite 16 competition, Cele and the Tigers faced a scarcity of scrimmage games, especially at the BAL level. Instead, they only played a few games against local clubs, which they won by a large margin. Although this seemed like a risky strategy, Cele believes it brought the team together.

“There is a saying that you’ve gotta stay ready to get ready, and I feel like all of us were always like that. We just had to adjust on the fly, and the more games we played, the better we became,” said Cele. Despite the lack of high-level competition, Cele doesn’t believe it impacted their readiness for the Elite 16.

The team’s reliance on each other and ability to adapt to different situations helped them bond. It ultimately made them one unit. As Cele put it, “I doubt it affected us, but it did force us to be a team. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but we moved the ball a little more than the previous times.”

Two days before the Elite 16 tournament, the Tigers faced off against the NBA Academy in an exhibition game. The young prospects surprised the Tigers with a win over the South African champions. However, Cele didn’t seem too concerned about the loss. He believes it wasn’t significant as they beat the Academy in their final group game later that week.

Samkelo Cele in action at the Elite 16
Samkelo Cele says winning rebounds will be key if the Tigers are to succeed at next year’s BAL.

According to Cele, “It was just an exhibition game, so we didn’t take it too seriously. We saw how they played in the first game and made the necessary adjustments in the second game (Elite 16), which we won.”

“We treated it as a game against the kids… To help them improve, because they represent the future of our continent.”

The Elite 16 final was a showdown between well-acquainted opponents. The Tigers and Oilers faced each other in last year’s (Elite 16) semi-finals and group stages of BAL Season 3. Having secured their tickets to next year’s BAL, the battle between the two teams was for bragging rights.

“When you play, you always wanna win so the final did matter. You always want to be able to say how many times you beat a team. When they had the chance to beat you – they couldn’t,” said the former Marist College Red Foxes player.

Regarding their victory, Cele recognizes its significance for setting the standard of preparation for the Kalahari Conference in South Africa.

Reflecting on the Tigers’ performance last season, he pointed out the team’s lack of rebounding as a major issue.

“I think that both times we lost, it was due to rebounding. The more we rebound, the better our chances are. I feel like we can play against any team on the continent,” said Cele.

Cele recalls the experience of playing against Stade Malien, who eliminated the Tigers in the quarter-finals. “I feel like talent-wise, they did not match up to us, but they out-hustled us and won every 50/50 ball. They out-rebounded us on both ends of the floor, so it’s rebounding,” says Cele.

“Most of the games we won were where we were good at rebounding. We give ourselves a chance if we rebound the ball well.”

Cele and the Tigers have ample time to fix their deficiencies and by the time the Kalahari Conference begins next year, they should be ready to roar.

 

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Ukpong’s balancing act nets big sponsor for Hoops Classic

ELVIS Ukpong’s day-to-day life revolves around basketball. He burns the candle at the school and professional level. Admittedly, both his jobs ask a lot of him and while the balancing act is not easy, great reward has manifested.

In the mornings until the end of the school day, Nigerian Ukpong serves as an educator and director of basketball at St David’s Marist Inanda, a school based in the affluent suburb of Sandton in Johannesburg, South Africa.

When the toil of shaping the minds of young men ends for the day, Ukpong begins his second job, being the general manager of the two-time national and BNLSA champions, Cape Town Tigers.

“My day starts at 7am. I am involved in the academic program and pastoral care duties of the school. In the afternoon we have the extra-mural activities and then later in the day I transition to the Tigers’ practice and other duties,” said Ukpong, a former media liaison officer of the Tigers.

“It is demanding. Tigers have their needs, and that must be done immediately. Luckily, there is a support system. We have people that help to make things happen. The school has its demands as well. I play a leadership role here. A lot depends on me regarding the flow of communication. So, it requires a lot of balance.”

Yes, pressure does come with the territory when holding down two jobs. But when they serve one ecosystem, there can be benefits.

Recently, Ukpong’s school basketball program scored a humungous win by acquiring a sponsor for their annual Inanda Hoops Classic Challenge, which runs from Thursday to Sunday.

Before speaking on the sponsorship, Ukpong touched on his basketball journey. He was a professional player, but sadly, his career was cut short by an off the court injury.

“I played school basketball back home in Nigeria. I also played professionally in Cote d’Ivoire for Fighters Abidjan. They were known as ABC when I played for them. You may have seen them play in the BAL,” said Ukpong.

“Unfortunately, I got into a car accident, which affected my right knee and it stopped my playing career.”

Elvis Ukpong second picture
Elvis Ukpong played professionally for Fighter Abidjan of Cote d’Ivoire. Pictures: The BTO

Fortunately, Ukpong did not close the door on basketball and found another way to stay involved in the game.

“I became a scout, and this is how I came to South Africa. I was with Basketball Without Borders as a scout. Later, I would be hired for the same job. That is how came to stay here (South Africa). From that, I saw there was a skills shortage and that is how I got involved in coaching,” said the former University of Ibadan student.

Ukpong has since grown from being a coach to now heading the St David’s program. Despite his upward trajectory, he still enjoys sitting on the bench and giving instructions. Also, what has been fulfilling for him, is seeing his pupils reach their potential.

“It’s been rewarding to see the kids learn the game… Seeing them play at the next level, which is university gives me joy. Some of them have gone to places like the United States to further their studies and improve their game. It has been rewarding to witness and be part of their growth,” said the former Soweto Panthers manager.

 

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It is not only the pupils that have come under the tutelage of Ukpong that have experience growth. He says engaging with the young men over the years has helped him develop his emotional intelligence.

“My temperament has changed. I used to be the coach who screamed a lot and was unnecessarily demanding. Now, I am more of a brother, a person who guides the kids and helps them to achieve their goals,” said Ukpong. “I am dealing with human beings and not chess pieces that I just move on the board. They are kids with emotions. I have realised that, over the years.”

Another aspect of Ukpong’s growth has been his ability to leverage the relationships he has built. He enticed Scott Pharoah, the owner of Pharoah Auto Investments, to sponsor the Inanda Hoops Classic Challenge, which is now in its sixth year.

“There is value in building relationships, especially at a personal level. It is through building relations that you get your message across. So, this opportunity came through engaging with Scott on a personal level,” said Ukpong.

“We invited him to several of the Tigers’ games. It exposed him to a different level of basketball. I think that played a role.”

Elvis Ukpong second picture
Elvis Ukpong, face mask, wants to serve in a managerial capacity in basketball.

The corporate investment has now put the Hoops Classic in a different light, and Ukpong agrees. It has also allowed St Davids to open the tournament to other schools.

“This sponsorship improves the scale of the tournament. We are going to the sixth edition, and it did get much recognition in the school circuit. Bringing in this sponsorship and getting exposure from the media helps to put the school’s name and the tournament out there.

“Also, before the sponsorship, schools used to pay an entry fee to enter. With Pharoah Auto on board, there is an opportunity for other schools that could not previously afford it (the fees) to participate.”

Ukpong has cultivated a niche for himself in basketball. Having acquired knowledge in the different spheres of the game, where does he want to serve in the future?

“I am moving more in the direction of management and less coaching. I want to set up a structure that will help me transition from coaching, to a higher level of management in basketball. That is what I see myself doing,” concluded Ukpong.

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