El Ghazi and AS Sale set sail for BAL conquest

Sale players are more like brothers than teammates

THE red carpet has been rolled out for teams participating in the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) tournament in Kigali, Rwanda. As the May 16 tip-off nears, players must probably be going through a whole range of emotions.

Excitement must top the list of feelings for players, as the BAL backed by the Rolls Royce of basketball, the NBA, have gone all out to ensure a magnificent player experience. As soon as they arrived at their hotel rooms, elated players took to the social media platforms to displays snaps and videos of the BAL gear and various paraphernalia adorned on their beds.

From an aesthetic perspective, the tournament looks to have given African basketball a facelift, and one of the players living the BAL dream shares this sentiment. Adam El Ghazi of Moroccan club AS Sale thinks that the tournament is a step up for Africa. The 25-year-old also hopes it will also bring fundamental change in both team and player management.

Adam El Ghazi Second Picture
AS Sale will need the strength of Adam El Ghazi (middle). Pictures: FIBA

“I have yet to play basketball in Morocco. This year is going to be the first time I play basketball in the local league. What I know is there is a lot of talent. The only problem is the management of teams,” said El Ghazi, who has played most of his career in France. “The management standards are low. Payment of players is usually late, and the structures are not that good. The onus is always on us players to do more for ourselves because the team will not give you that.

“I think by participating in the BAL, teams will learn a lot about the sport’s management. There have already been discussions with NBA executives to address issues affecting teams. As players, we have to know what our rights are so we can defend ourselves. So, the NBA has done a lot so that both sides get knowledge.”

El Ghazi also reflected on the royal treatment the players have received since they arrived in Rwanda.

I have played in France where the standard is relatively high, but it was nothing like this. Wherever the NBA puts its name, you know it is going to be great. When I came into my room, it was crazy! It was insane! That was the first time I have had everything as a player. You can ask for anything, and it’s readily available,” said El Ghazi. “They put the player in the best position to be good. They know when you look good, you play well. All you have to worry about is playing basketball. It’s a level up from Europe.”

 

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Knowing that the seven-time Moroccan Division Excellence champions are in the best position to perform, preparations for the BAL tournament have also gone smoothly. El Ghazi believes there’s a good atmosphere in the team. Another positive is that the team is match-fit, and according to El Ghazi, the focus should now be on getting the small things right.

“We have Moroccan players that have played together for ten years and some good overseas acquisitions with experience. So, we have a solid base. We have good chemistry, but we have to work on a few details. I think we will base our practices on working on these small details because that will help us beat the big teams,” said El Ghazi. “The energy is super in the team. We are focused on winning. We are focused on the championship.”

El Ghazi’s confidence about AS Sale’s chances at the BAL is warranted. The Moroccan team have an impressive record in the defunct FIBA Africa Basketball League. They were crowned champions in 2017, runners up in 2018-19 and had third-place finishes in 2010, 2011 and 2016.

As I said before, we have a good base. We won this championship once in 2018. The year after that, we finished as runners-up. So, we have experience from competing in those finals,” said El Ghazi. “I must say as well, in this team, I have no friends. These are my brothers. Even when I was in France, we kept in touch. It’s a good family dynamic. So, I think it gives an edge over the other teams.”

An interesting fact about the AS Sale team is that most players are observing the holy month of Ramadan, which entails fasting from dawn to dusk. El Ghazi says this religious practice makes them better as players from a mental and physical perspective.

Adam El Ghazi
Adam El Ghazi (15) during the defunct FIBA Africa Basketball League.

“Physically, Ramadan makes you a better player. Fasting during this time helps the body to regenerate. So, physically that’s a good thing. Mentally, all the guys do it, so we are all focused on the same thing. When the goal is the same, it unites us,” said El Ghazi. “Even the foreign players in our team respect us for doing this. So that is cool.

“We finish in a couple of days. So we will have food regularly so our bodies will be one hundred per cent.”

Only 100% effort will see AS Sale players reach the desired goal of winning the inaugural BAL championship. Good energy and experience at this level bode well for them. All that is left is for them to set sail and once again conquer.

* AS Sale are in Group B with AS Police (Mali), FAP (Cameroon) and Petro de Luanda (Angola).

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