Tigers plan on being the face of basketball in Africa

Getting the balance right is key for the Tigers

WHO are the Cape Town Tigers? It was a big question in South African basketball circles recently. The team in question gave a glimpse of who they are, a fortnight ago in a three-day friendly exhibition in Johannesburg.

With the bevvy of talent at their disposal, the Tigers, formed in 2019, left the city of gold unbeaten and begging the question: is this super team going to shake up the basketball landscape in the country?

The answer is yes and if the words of Raphael Edwards are anything to go by. The Tigers plan on becoming the face of basketball on the continent. 

I told the president of the BAL (Amadou Gallo Fall) this. We plan on being the face of the Basketball Africa League and the gold standard on how to be a professional team,” said Edwards, who is part of the Tigers ownership. That’s through philanthropy, marketing of ourselves and how we play on the court.”

To achieve the goal of being a big brand and a dominant force on the continent, Tigers have recruited notable players who played for the South African national team at the Afrobasket.

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Christopher Gabriel is part of the on court leadership of the Tigers. Pictures: The BTO

Christopher Gabriel, who played college basketball for the University of San Diego and represented South Africa at three continental tournaments (2009, 2011 and 2017), is part of the on-court leadership of the Tigers.

Cape Town born Gabriel comes with vast experience having played in countries like Slovenia, Denmark, Uruguay, Spain, Georgia and Iran.

Gabriel, a centre, will co-captain the team with a player who comes with his own wealth of experience in Pieter Prinsloo. The Pretoria-West born power forward was also part of the South African team that played in the 2017 Afrobasket.

He also cut his teeth in the American college system, where he suited up for Marist University.

Enticing Gabriel and Prinsloo to come and play in the country of their birth was not hard for Edwards. He pitched the idea that their collective experience would add value to the team and its ambitions.

“Pieter Prinsloo and Chris Gabriel, who are our captains. I told them, ‘you guys put in the work’, so why don’t you want to reap the benefits now? You have put your country on the map. With the BAL now here on the continent, don’t you want to be a part of that?” explained the 45-year-old New Yorker. “You deserve to be part of that, and you deserve to lead the way.”

The Tigers’ roster also has three other prominent players who played on the BNLSA scene in centre Somusa Mthembu , forward Miguel Ferrao and guard Lebogang Mofokeng.

Mthembu is a three-time BNLSA champion  with the Tshwane Suns, while Ferrao is also a four-time league champion with Egoli Magic. Former Soweto Panthers player Mofokeng was part of the Egoli team’s championship run last year.

Edwards’ plan is to ensure that the players coming in develop on and off the court. Having experienced what it was like overseas, he feels there was a missing component to his development. The focus was more on him as a player and less on his individual growth.

“Talking to the guys, my selling point was that I would be present. I want to invest in them becoming better players, better men and better leaders,” said Edwards, who played for East Carolina University. “When I played for ten years overseas, and nobody cared about those other aspects when I was playing. All that mattered was me scoring the basketball.

“I want them to understand that I am going to contribute to them being better all around.”

To get the team to be a cohesive unit, the Tigers have employed Relton Booysen and Vincent Ntunja, a legend in South Africa and Cape Town basketball, as coaches of the team.

Booysen and Ntunja are from  Cape Town, which is a plus for Tigers. The two know the lay of the land and have good working chemistry, which bodes well for the team.

“The two coaches that we hired are connected to the community of Cape Town. They bleed for Cape Town,” said Edwards. “They are like fire and ice. Vince is as cool as a fan, and Relton is the fire.

“I believe in balance. Everything in life is about balance. Those two are like yin and yang. I told somebody in an interview a couple of days ago: ‘every time they talk about the city and about giving back, it’s intense and filled with passion.’ I believe my partners, the team and I have given them the platform to do that, with no restraints or any holds barred.”

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Pieter Prinsloo, left, will lead the Tigers this season.

The Tigers will have to earn their stripes the hard way. Their journey to being the best on the continent will not be immediate. They have to navigate their way through the Cape Town Basketball League’s second division.

Right now, we are in the second division. As far as preparation goes, we have to work hard, and pay attention to detail. Every single day we have to get better,” said Edwards. We are going to make sure that we handle all our compliance aspects well.”

“We plan on being here and being the best team in Africa.”

The Mother City is the appropriate birthplace for the ambitious Tigers, who must scratch and claw their way up the ranks. The question they have to answer is; can make South Africa and the rest of the continent feel their roar? Only time will tell.

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