Rwanda to raise their competitive bar in Tunisia

“We have to show that we want to win”

RWANDAN basketball has enjoyed an upward trajectory. This rise, although steady, has garnered recognition for the East African nation on the continent.

After successfully hosting the Basketball Africa League qualifiers two-years-ago, Rwanda added another feather in the cap, by hosting one leg of the Afrobasket qualifiers in November.

Unfortunately, hosting the Afrobasket qualifiers did not have the desired effect on Rwanda’s national team. Technically, Rwanda are AfroBasket hosts (24 August- 5 September) and did not need to play in the qualifiers. But they did and gave uninspiring displays at their home venue in Kigali.

Second Picture
Rwanda captain Olivier Shyaka believes there has been a change in attitude in the team since the appointment of Henry Mwinuka. Pictures: FIBA

Reflecting on their 0-3 record in Group D, team captain Olivier Shyaka says the Rwandan team did not show up.

“Last year, we did not play well. We did not practice as hard as we needed to. We did not play with commitment. We were there physically, but we did not play with heart,” said Shyaka, who plays for REG Basketball Club in Rwanda.

Despite being one of the few countries on the continent to have had a basketball season, albeit a shortened one, the mileage should have been beneficial. Shyaka though holds a different view. In his opinion, the league season was not long enough for the selected national team players to be competitive.

“The bubble was not enough. We had not played for six months, and we only played in the bio-bubble for two weeks,” said Shyaka, who acknowledged that some teams were not as fortunate as Rwanda was to have a league. “I know that’s just an excuse because other countries were on lockdown too.”

Could the fact that Rwanda is hosting the upcoming tournament have played on the team’s psyche? Shyaka refutes the notion, saying it would have been disrespectful to the other teams in their group.

No, no, no. That is not possible. Then the other teams will not respect us. We have to try and win. Two or three games. The other teams needed to feel our presence. No matter what, whether you are hosting or not, we have to win. Just because we were hosts, does not mean we should have been there to only participate. We have to show that we want to win,” said the 25-year-old.

Following losses to group D opponents, Nigeria, South Sudan and Mali, Rwanda’s Serbian coach Vladimir Bosnjak stepped down. In his place, the national federation, Rwanda Basketball Federation (Ferwaba) hired caretaker coach Henry Mwinuka, who coaches REG Basketball Club.

Mwinuka’s appointment, according to Shyaka, has brought in an air of confidence in the team. Shyaka, believes his club coach, has great confidence in the players going to do battle for Rwanda.

“The way we train is different. Every coach has their style and vision. Henry Mwinuka maybe the acting coach, but he hates to lose. He demonstrates it in the way he pushes us at practice. The way he talks to us. The way he shows that he trusts us. He’s created an environment of togetherness. There’s a difference in the team,” said the power forward.

Third Pic
Rwanda’s Olivier Shyaka says he and his teammates need to redeem themselves in Tunisia.

Despite Rwanda’s poor showing in the first leg of the qualifiers, Shyaka was one of their top performers, in terms of efficiency. The Rwanda captain, says his performances serve no benefit if the team is not winning.

“We play basketball as a team. If I play well, other players are inspired to play well too. I am helping them to be better on the court. However, if I don’t play well, it does not mean that my teammates should play badly. We should have each other’s backs. Last year that was not the case, we played as individuals. That is the first thing the new coach addressed,” said Shyaka.

Rwanda does not have the burden of being hosts for the final leg of the qualifiers. They head to Monastir, Tunisia (17 February-21 February) hoping to redeem themselves. Shyaka reiterated those sentiments and believes the wind of change has galvanised the team.

“We have been practising for three weeks. I can tell you we are in a good space as a team, unlike last year. We have been training hard. There’s a new level of commitment. There are new guys who the coach wants to give a chance to,” said Shyaka, who stated the team’s intention when they touchdown in Monastir. “We are going to Tunisia to fight. We are going to Tunisia to compete. More than before, we are committed.”

Change has come to the Rwandan team. A new coach. A change in attitude. And a promise to be competitive in Tunisia. Hopefully, the team’s performances in North Africa will befit a country seen, as a new hub for basketball on the continent.

Rwanda to raise their competitive bar in Tunisia Read More »