What are the takeaways from the just concluded Basketball Africa League?

BAL What are the takeaways from the just concluded Basketball Africa League?

Ndyamuhaki J Emanzi 09:55 - 31.05.2023

The quarter-final clash between REG and Al Ahly and the final between AS Douanes and Al Ahly both took place inside a sold-out BK Arena.

The third season of the Basketball Africa League came to a close last Saturday, with Egypt's Al Ahly defeating Senegal's AS Douanes 80-65 to lift the trophy.

Agusti Julbe Bosch's charges were playing in the BAL for the first time, having missed the first two seasons.

The NBA-affiliated tournament has continued to grow, and the Season Three playoffs in Kigali, Rwanda, further highlighted how big the investment is.

Having in March with the Sahara Conference games in Dakar, Senegal, the action moved to Cairo, Egypt, for the Nile Conference and later to Kigali for the playoffs.

But what are the takeaways from Season Three?

Strong North

Well, the numbers don't lie. Three BAL seasons played, and all three winners come from North Africa.

Zamalek defeated US Monastir in Season One to win the inaugural edition before the Tunisian outfit went all the way in Season Two.

Al Ahly's win made it two titles for Egypt, whose teams are showing early signs of dominance in the competition.

AS Douanes and Petro de Luanda are the only teams outside the North to have reached the finals, but a title for the rest of Africa remains elusive for now.

Zamalek won the 2021 season unbeaten, while Al Ahly lost one game to Petro in the regular season.

East Africa must step up

Rwanda Energy Group (REG) Basketball Club was the only team from East Africa to make the playoffs, but their performance in front of their home crowd left a lot to be desired.

The Rwandan champions suffered early elimination from the playoffs after losing to eventual champions Al Ahly in the quarter-finals.

It is the second time that REG are failing to kick the semi-final door open, having lost to Cameroon's FAP in the 2022 edition.

Patriots are the other East African side to have progressed to the playoffs but were eliminated by US Monastir in Season One.

The two Rwandan sides are the only teams carrying the East African flag in the playoffs.

Uganda's City Oilers failed to come out of the Nile Conference after a dismal 1-4 record.

Other regional powerhouses like Kenya Ports Authority, Burundi's Urunani and South Sudan's Cobra continue to miss out on qualification to the BAL.

Petro collapse

At the start of Season Three, all eyes were on Petro de Luanda, with everyone tipping them to finally land the title.

Having finished third in Season One and second in Season Two, Petro were projected as the favourites for the title in 2023.

And if there were any doubts, they were cleared after the Angolan giants defeated Al Ahly 91-90 in Cairo to complete their regular season business with a 5-0 record.

Unbeaten going into the playoffs, Jose Neto's charges went to Kigali with one goal -to collect the BAL trophy.

But signs of a collapse started manifesting in the 88-84 win over ABC Fighters in their quarter-final clash.

Team captain Carlos Morais revealed after the game that they had not played Petro basketball and needed to step in the next game to leave the stage with the trophy.

The collapse started from the tip-off of the semi-final clash with AS Douanes, and the Angolans paid the price for a sluggish start against a physical Douanes side that took the game to them.

The Senegalese won 92-86 to bundle the favourites out and progress to the finals.

And as if the semi-final defeat was not enough, Petro struggled and lost to Stade Malien in the third-place game to finish fourth.

Will the Angolans ever land the BAL trophy? There's always next time, but the 2023 season ended in capitulation.

Big names like Ater Majok and Souleyman Diabate were expected to bring championship experience to Petro, having lifted the title with Monastir in Season Two but struggled to leave a mark.

MVP Omot

Nuni Omot signed for Al Ahly and made the difference for them as they marched to the title.

Nuni Omot made the difference for Al Ahly and was named MVP /COURTESY PICTURE

The South Sudan forward was named MVP after averaging 18.9 points per game.

It is yet another achievement for the forward, who helped South Sudan qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Rwanda on the right track

Rwanda continues to do an excellent job of marketing their country through hosting big sporting events.

All three BAL seasons have ended with the playoffs in Kigali, and the growth can be seen, from the big names attracted to the action to the growing numbers of home fans interested in the game.

This year's playoffs drew numbers and had the arena packed to the rafters for the quarter-finals and the final.

The quarter-final clash between REG and Al Ahly and the final between AS Douanes and Al Ahly both took place inside a sold-out BK Arena.

Some of the notable attendees throughout the playoffs included Rwanda President Paul Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame, NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum, FIBA President Hamane Niang; FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis and NBA Africa CEO Victor Williams.

BAL president Amadou Gallo Fall, FIBA Africa president Anibal Manave, FIBA Africa Executive Director Alphonse Bilé, Toronto Raptors Vice-Chairman and Team President Masai Ujiri, Academy Award-winning actor, social activist and NBA Africa investor Forest Whitaker, BAL Ambassadors and NBA Africa investors Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Ian Mahinmi and New York Knicks President of G League Operations Pops Mensah-Bonsu were all in Kigali.

Former Miami Heat and NBA star Dwyane Wade also attended Cape Town Tigers games to support son Zaire Wade.