Patriots Basketball Club

Can Gasana and the Patriots slay the Monastir beast?

THE veteran experience in the Patriots Basketball Club played a significant role in carrying the club to the semi-final stage of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) tournament in Kigali, Rwanda.

Led by their veteran guards, Kenny Gasana and Aristide Mugabe, the Patriots survived a rollercoaster quarter-final against Ferroviario de Maputo on Thursday night.

Kenny Gasana
Patriots’ Kenny Gasana played a huge role against Ferroviario. Pictures: FIBA

Reflecting on the game against the Mozambicans, Gasana paid homage to team captain, Mugabe. American-born Gasana was the game’s MVP, scoring 23 points and notching five rebounds, Mugabe scored 18 points. Mugabe chipped in with four clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter. The first one helped close in on the Ferroviario (60-61), and the other three helped the Patriots pull away.

“Aristide was huge for us. He hit some big shots. You talked about his experience. He has been there before. He has played a lot of big games on the local and international stage. So did not shy away from the moment. He was ready for it,” said Gasana.

The former Boise State player did have a few nervous moments in the final minutes from the free-throw line.

“I was a little mad at myself for missing the free throw. Before that, I shot the free throw pretty well throughout the game. I maybe was just a little rusty,” said Gasana. “I knew with the situation they did not have any time-outs. So, I was able to make a free throw. It put a little pressure on them to make a three-pointer to try and win the game.”

The game ended 73-71 in favour of the Patriots. The intensity of the encounter must have extracted a heavy toll. While it may be the case, Gasana and his teammates will have to dig deep into their energy reserves as a familiar foe lies in wait.

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US Monastir is as close to a perfect team comes, in this tournament. From the group stages right through to the quarter-finals, the Tunisians have taken no prisoners.

The Patriots will know as they were no match against the North African club in the group stages. In this semi-final battle the Rwanda club will know what to expect. The 36-year-old Gasana said his team has to concentrate against the well-oiled Monastir machine.

“We need to be focused. Monastir is a veteran team. Everyone has experience. They are not going to beat themselves. We can’t rely on them to make mistakes as well. We have to execute our game plan to the best of our abilities,” said the Rwanda international.

The Patriots, like most teams going into this tournament, had very little match practice and trying to beat a Monastir team that has had a basketball season is a tall task. Gasana pointed that the circumstances under COVID-19 meant that caution needed to be applied.

“It’s a different time. The situation has been difficult. We are dealing with COVID. Very few teams have had a season in their respective countries. Here in Rwanda, we have not had a season since October/November,” said San Antonio-born Gasana. “So the guys have been training. It would have helped if we had some games to help us compete. That’s the situation for eight or nine teams that competed here. We can’t make any excuses now. We have to be ready.”

Kenny Gasana
Kenny Gasana and the Patriots have to overcome a well-oiled Monastir team.

The Patriots must overcome the hurdle of Monastir. They are close to the final and with the trophy in sight this should raise their hunger levels.

“Our focus when we came into the tournament was to win every game we played. We take it one game at a time. From the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony, we want to play,” said Gasana. “We did a huge thing by making it to the top four. But that’s not the end goal. We don’t want to make it only into the top four. We want to compete and raise that trophy.”

If they have any chance of raising the inaugural BAL trophy, the Patriots will have to out-fox a team highly touted. With a passionate home crowd behind them and the spotlight firmly fixed on them, it will be hard for Patriots to shy away from this moment.

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Ibeh ready to reign with the Patriots

Patriots must stay sharp and avoid mental lapses

DEALING with injury is part and parcel of an athlete’s sporting career. Depending on the severity of the injury some athletes are never the same and even opt for early retirement. On the flipside there is a different breed of athlete, the one that perseveres against all odds, works their way back and overcomes the woes of injury.

Patriots Basketball Club player, Prince Ibeh is one such player. Having had a successful playing career in college, Ibeh suffered a succession of injuries, which cut short his NBA dreams.

“College was good. I finished off strong in college. My senior year was my best. Going into my first year as a pro was rough. I had a string of injuries that robbed me of opportunities,” said the former Texas Longhorn.

Prince Ibeh Second Picture
Prince Ibeh has developed mental toughness. Pictures: FIBA

His first brush with injury came at a huge cost for him as at the time the England-born player was a potential second round pick ahead of the 2016 NBA draft.

“I remember in the pre-draft process, I tore my quad. At that point, the projection for me was somewhere late in the second round. I did not get the opportunity to pursue that,” said Ibeh, whom fortune temporarily smiled on following his recovery. “Once I got better, the Nets signed me to a G-League deal and then called me up for the rest of the season. That was in the 2017 season, I believe.”

As soon as the 26-year-old made recovery another injury again curtailed his progress. At the same time, the prospect of playing in the NBA was diminishing, forcing him to seek fortunes elsewhere.

That summer, I stayed in Brooklyn and trained with the Nets team. Unfortunately, I got a stress fracture on my back. It was another setback. I was out for another couple of months. After that I joined the Nets’ G-League team in Long Island,” said Ibeh. “That year I played well, and right before the G-League showcase, I tore a ligament in my thumb. “After the surgery from that, I was done. I was frustrated with all the injuries and decided to go overseas.”

The sojourns overseas saw Ibeh play in Japan (Yokohama B Corsairs), the Philippines (NorthPort Batang Pier), Germany (Hamburg Towers) and England (Plymouth Raiders). In his stint in Japan, the 6-8 forward/centre was again derailed by injury. On his next stop in the Philippines, things began to turn around for him.

“I went to Japan, where things were ok, although the team did not do well. I also hurt my ankle. So, I had to sit out a little early than I would have liked,” said Ibeh. “The Philippines was great. I played some of my best basketball there. I reinvigorated my career, and it was a chance to showcase what I could do.

“From there I went to Germany, where I also played well, but unfortunately Covid started last year. This year, I was played in the British BBL, and helped the team do things they had not achieved in a long time.”

 

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Battle-hardened, Ibeh seems to have overcome his struggles with injury and has been able to focus on playing the game at a high level.

“It was difficult; it is not like I muscled through all the time. It was tough mentally, especially with the first injury, because it happened before my professional career could start. I felt like I lost everything before I even got a chance,” said Ibeh.

“So it took me a while to rebuild my mental strength and to start believing in myself again. Now, when a setback occurs, I recall those days. I have built up the mental toughness to deal with challenges in the future. It could be another injury, issues with a coach or player changes. Any adversity that comes, I have to be ready. I have dealt with these tests already. So, I am confident in what I can do.”

This new version of the Ibeh was there for all to see, as he suited up for the Patriots’ Basketball Africa League (BAL) inaugural campaign in Rwanda. He played with confidence and was aggressive for the Rwandese club in the opening game of the tournament last Sunday against Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers. The forward scored 11 points, including two monster jams, and crashed 11 boards as the home side romped to an 83-60 victory.

While Ibeh was happy victory over Hoopers, he feels as a team they were sluggish and that maybe some nerves had set in.

“We did not come to the game with the necessary intensity required. It’s normal at this stage of the tournament. It was probably first game jitters,” said Ibeh, who has roots in Nigeria. “We were not concerned. We remained level headed. The coaching staff made the necessary adjustments.

“I liked the way we pushed the pace and the movement we had on the floor. We finished with 19 or 20 assists, so are we playing the right way. The team  rely on an individual on a particular individual. We are sharing the ball, giving the open guys a look. We have to be aware of mental lapses and stay sharp.”

Prince Ibeh
Prince Ibeh in action for Rwanda

The Rwanda international also credits the Patriots coaching staff led by Alan Major for the opening day victory.

“It’s just the way we practise. A lot of credit must go to Alan and the assistants for preparing us well. We do extensive film and studying the other team. We are a good group of guys and like playing with each other. In this team, there are no egos, so we were able to do good things on the court,” said Ibeh.

The Patriots have started the tournament on the right footing and Ibeh feels as presently constructed, they can go all the way.

“Absolutely! I would not have come here if I thought we could not win. I never join anything to lose or come in second place. We have the talent. We have to go out there and perform every night,” concluded Ibeh.

*Patriots face GNBC of Madagascar at 2pm

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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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Basketball gave me a second family

Lessons can be learnt from the Rwandan genocide and COVID-19

RWANDA reflects during this time of the year. As a country, we have been through the most, having experienced a genocide that took almost a million lives, 26 years ago. I lost my two brothers, my father and other family members during the genocide waged against the Tutsi population. So, every year around this time, I reflect more on the lost lives of my loved ones.

Unfortunately, my compatriots and I are unable to come together to commemorate this period in Rwandan history due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Once again, my country is involved in a war, but this time around, Rwanda is not alone in this battle against a global pandemic. As I write this, people are indoors, our movement outdoors is restricted to only going to the market to buy food and other essentials. People that are allowed to work, are in services like health and security. Also, the shops close at 6 p.m., no bars and no church. It’s a lockdown!

Because of the situation now, the emphasis is on social distancing and we are not allowed to gather in big numbers. So, commemoration of the genocide is done virtually. If there is a message that has to be passed on to citizens, it’s done through public and private media houses or social media.

Patriots player Aristide Mugabe believes human kindness is what matters now. Picture: FIBA

COVID-19 has interrupted our way of life here and has stopped me from doing what I love and that is playing basketball. I am a basketball player by profession and have been playing since 2001. I have played for a couple of clubs, and I have represented Rwanda since 2011, and later captained the national team from 2013.

Basketball, in a way gave me a second family. I got to meet new brothers, and elders that showed me love and stayed with me through everything I have encountered in life. It has also contributed to my growth as a person and allowed me to contribute to my society.

After my team, Patriots Basketball Club won the league last season and qualified for Basketball Africa League (BAL), we were excited as it was a dream come true to play in a big league like this and to represent our country and region. This league was going to and will change the game on our continent, like we hear the Euroleague has done for basketball in Europe. This is going to be one of the best leagues in the world.

We began our preparations early in the year, as the league was set to start in March in Dakar, but before the launch date the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Senegal and the situation got worse. I feel bad because my teammates and I can’t play, and it has been more than a month now. However, I understand the situation. All we can do is stay ready. We work-out and stay mentally in shape in our homes so that when this pandemic is under control, we will be ready to play again.

Before I close, I would like to tell you two lessons I have learnt on the impact of COVID-19 during this time that are linked to Rwanda commemorating the genocide. Firstly, from the genocide I learnt that, hate and division among people leads to nothing, it only causes destruction. Only in coming together, is society able to build something that can’t be broken. COVID-19 require exactly the same attitude if we are going to defeat it.

Secondly, nations and humanity need to come together for COVID-19 to be controlled. It also shows the world that we need each other to live a good life. And our planet needs for us to take care of it. We should also protect each other and stay together regardless of our differences. Right now, all borders are closed, we can’t do business and we can’t travel. So, life is now dependant on staying  healthy. Money, power and our possessions can’t save us. Coming back from the ashes of the genocide has taught Rwanda the same lesson.

In parting, my message to everyone is: stay positive, this is still our year, and as the saying goes, ‘the game is not won in the first quarter’. I still hope that things will get better and we will go outside and play again. For now, let’s practice social distancing, stay healthy and try to follow what our leaders are putting on place to keep us safe. One love.

 

 

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