The inaugural 12-team Basketball Africa League (BAL) is finally set to tip off in Kigali, Rwanda, on May 16, more than a year after it was scheduled to start, and hoops fans have plenty to learn about Africa’s premier domestic sides.
The BAL was initially scheduled to start on March 13, 2020 in Dakar, Senegal, but COVID-19 postponed the continent-wide event. The whole tournament was moved to a bubble in Kigali and the regular season was changed to a group stage format.
Angola’s Petro de Luanda, Egypt’s Zamalek, Morocco’s AS Salé, Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers, Senegal’s AS Douanes and Tunisia’s US Monastir qualified directly as national champions.
They are joined in the BAL by hosts Patriots, Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club (GNBC) and Ferroviário de Maputo from the East Division of qualifying, as well as the West Division’s GS Pétroliers, AS Police and Forces Armées et Police Basketball (FAP).
Group A: US Monastir, Rivers Hoopers, Patriots, GNBC
US Monastir (Tunisia)
How did they qualify? US Monastir qualified directly by winning the 2019 Tunisian championship, defeating ES Radès.
History: Established in 1959, US Monastir did not rise to the top of Tunisian basketball until 1998, when they beat Ezzahra Sports in the league finals to win their first title. In 1999/2000, Monastir beat Club Africain in the league final and Ezzahra in the cup final to win the double.
After a third title win in 2005 and a maiden appearance at the FIBA Africa Club Championship in 2014, Monastir finished third in the Africa Champions Cup in 2017. They were defeated by ES Radès in the semi-final, but won the bronze playoff against Sport Libolo e Benfica.
If they needed revenge on local rivals ES Radès, Monastir claimed it by beating them to claim the league title not only in 2019, but again in 2020.
Star man: Ater Majok
Reasons for optimism: Monastir came close to being African champions in 2017 and have since overtaken ES Radès, the team who knocked them out in the semi-finals. They have beaten their fierce rivals to the last two Tunisian league titles.
The signings of Ater Majok and Wael Arakji will surely add strength to a squad which was already brimming with quality Tunisian internationals.
Reasons for concern: Monastir have never been African champions and might find it tough to compete with a Rivers Hoopers side bolstered by the star signing of Ben Uzoh.
Solms’s prediction: Final
Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria)
How did they qualify? Rivers Hoopers picked up their third Nigerian Premier League (NPL) title in 2019, thrashing the Raptors 97-57 in the final.
History: Founded in 2009 as Royal Hoopers, Rivers Hoopers have played in the Nigerian Premier League from the get-go.
In 2011 and 2012, they won back-to-back titles, finally adding a third national crown in 2019.
In December 2018, Rivers Hoopers featured in the FIBA Africa Zone 3 Championship, winning all five fixtures and going on to play in the 2019 Africa Basketball League. There, they finished third in Group A behind AS de Salé and JS Kairouan.
Star man: Ben Uzoh
Reasons for optimism: Rivers Hoopers have shown through their recruitment that they are not in the BAL to make up the numbers. The signing of former Nets, Cavaliers, and Raptors guard Ben Uzoh in particular was a major statement of intent.
Reasons for concern: The club does not have the basketball prestige to match US Monastir, with whom they share a group. Rivers Hoopers have never come close to winning the FIBA Africa Clubs Champions Cup.
Solms’s prediction: Quarter-finals
How did they qualify? Patriots were ruthless in their quest to qualify for the BAL, winning every single game en route to East Division success at the qualifying tournament. In the final, they convincingly beat GNBC 94-63.
History: Founded in 2014 by a collective of top corporate figures, Patriots quickly soared to the top of Rwandan basketball, winning the National Basketball League in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Already, they are the most successful team in the history of the competition.
Star man: Aristide Mugabe
Reasons for optimism: Patriots are a team on the up, having won every game in qualifying. They will be on home soil and will fancy their chances of at least beating GNBC, which might be all they need for a quarter-final spot.
Reasons for concern: Like Rivers Hoopers, Patriots are in their fledgling years and do not have the prestige or experience of some of the teams they will be up against.
Solms’s prediction: Quarter-finals
How did they qualify? Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club (GNBC) won Madagascar’s N1A in 2019 and were runners-up in the East Division of the BAL qualifying tournament.
History: The GNBC public sports institution was only established in 2012, but the team became national champions in 2016 and won the title again in 2019.
Star man: Cameron Ridley
Reasons for optimism: GNBC were impressive for the most part in qualifying and proved that they should not be taken lightly. They head into this tournament as a relatively unknown quantity, which could work in their favour. Former All-American Cameron Ridley could prove to be a shrewd signing for them.
Reasons for concern: GNBC have been placed in a group with three strong opponents, including a Patriots side which breezed past them in qualifying and will be on home soil.
Solms’s prediction: Group stage
Group B: Petro de Luanda, AS Salé, AS Police, FAP
Petro de Luanda (Angola)
How did they qualify? Petro de Luanda qualified automatically by beating African champions Primeiro de Agosto to the 2018/19 Angolan Basketball League title.
History: Established in 1976, Petro de Luanda’s basketball team is one of many sporting outfits in a diverse institution which includes football and handball teams. They are second only to Primeiro de Agosto in overall Angolan Basketball League title wins.
Petro de Luanda’s first national title came in 1989 and they dominated Angolan basketball in the early 1990s, winning the league in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995. Further triumphs followed in 1998 and 1999.
After a seven-year drought, Petro won the league again in 2006, which was the same year in which they were crowned African champions for the first time. Fittingly, it was a 76-71 win over Primeiro de Agosto which earned Petro their first FIBA Africa Clubs Champions Cup title.
After another league title in 2007, their next came in 2011. In 2015, they repeated their 2006 Angolan and African double. Having beaten Primeiro de Agosto in the semi-finals, they saw off fellow local rivals Rec do Libolo 89-75 in the FIBA Africa Clubs Champions Cup final.
Petro de Luanda’s next league title came in 2019 and they have dominated nationally since. They were top of the table in 2020 when the league was called off due to COVID-19 and won their 14th title in 2021.
Star man: Aboubakar Gakou
Reasons for optimism: Petro de Luanda have consistently been one of Africa’s best teams, claiming the Champions Cup in 2006 and 2015. They beat African champions Primeiro de Agosto to qualify and should be viewed as one of the tournament’s most dangerous teams.
Reasons for concern: Being grouped with Salé means Petro may well face a difficult path through the playoffs.
Solms’s prediction: Champions
AS Salé (Morocco)
How did they qualify? AS Salé qualified directly as winners of the Moroccan League.
History: The basketball section of AS Salé was founded in 1928. Today, they are the pride of the organisation, as the football team competes in the second division. However, even the basketball side did not win the national title until 2010.
Since then, they have been utterly dominant. AS Salé won further Division Excellence basketball titles in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
In 2017, they beat ES Radès 77-69 in Radès to win the FIBA Africa Champions Cup, becoming the first Moroccan side to lift the title since MAS Fez in 1998. In 2018/19, Salé were runners-up, losing the final 83-71 to Primeiro de Agosto.
Star man: Eric Kibi
Reasons for optimism: Having finished as runners-up in the last African continental championship, Salé should be viewed as serious contenders. Said El Bouzidi, the coach who masterminded the 2017 success, is back at the club.
Reasons for concern: The presence of Petro de Luanda in their group means Salé might struggle to finish top, potentially setting them up for a tricky quarter-final tie.
Furthermore, with the Moroccan championship having only recently resumed after nearly two years of inactivity, the team is at risk of being rusty. They are not the same team they were four years ago in terms of playing personnel and El Bouzidi has a difficult task on his hands.
Solms’s prediction: Semi-final
AS Police (Mali)
How did they qualify? It was not a major surprise when AS Police won the 2019 Malian national championship to make the BAL qualifiers. Their 83-76 Group A win over Algeria’s GS Pétroliers was, however, against expectations.
After finishing top of their group in the first round, Police finished second in their second round group behind Abidjan Basket Club (ABC). After losing 76-61 to GS Pétroliers in the West Division semi-finals, they beat ABC 71-69 in the third-place playoff in order to qualify by the skin of their teeth.
History: It was largely civilians and police officers who carried AS Police up the ranks of Malian basketball. After winning the Malian Cup in 2005 and 2011, they won Ligue 1 for the first time in 2017 and then again in 2019 and 2020.
Under the guidance of Moussa Sogoré, AS Police experienced the most successful spell in their history. He has now been replaced by Boubacar Kanoute.
Star man: Badra Samake
Reasons for optimism: AS Police showed their grit in order to qualify for the tournament and may have the element of surprise on their side.
Reasons for concern: Having only qualified by the skin of their teeth, AS Police will need a minor miracle to progress in a group which features two of the tournament favourites.
Solms’s prediction: Group stage
AS Police get a glimpse of their kit for the season as they arrive for the Basketball Africa League in Kigali.
How did they qualify? After Cameroonian champions Condor BC declined to participate in the 2019 Basketball Africa League qualifiers, runners-up Forces Armées et Police Basketball (FAP) stepped up to replace them and proved themselves worthy.
After topping Group C in the first round thanks to wins over Manga, ASB Mazembe and Virgen Maria de Africa, FAP finished second to GS Pétroliers in their second round group, qualifying for the West Division semi-finals.
After a 77-64 win over ABC to reach the final, FAP were already assured of a BAL place by the time they took on GS Pétroliers. A heartbreaking 92-88 defeat denied them the West Division crown.
History: Established in 1972, FAP won the Central Region Championship in 2011, 2016 and 2018. However, their first Cameroonian Basketball League title did not come until 2019/20, after they had finished as runners-up to Condor BC the previous season.
Star man: Ebaku Akumenzoh
Reasons for optimism: FAP outperformed AS Police in qualifying, so they may fancy their chances of beating the Malian side and sneaking into the playoffs as one of the best third-placed teams.
Reasons for concern: They were fortunate to have the chance to qualify for BAL and FAP will be major underdogs against giants Petro de Luanda and AS Salé.
Solms’s prediction: Group stage
Group C: Zamalek, AS Douanes, GS Pétroliers, Ferroviário de Maputo
How did they qualify? Zamalek qualified directly by winning the 2018/19 Egyptian Basketball Super League. It was their first national championship title in 12 years.
History: Zamalek won the Egyptian Republic Championship, the precursor to the Egyptian Super League, in 1969/70 and 1973/74.
They were a dominant force early in the Super League era, following up their 1973/1974 title with six wins in the next eight seasons.
Al Ittihad then had a spell of dominance, winning the title for six seasons in a row, with Zamalek finally ending that run in 1987/88. Zamalek lost the title to rivals Al Ahly the following season and then to Al Ittihad again, but reclaimed first prize in 1990/91.
After finishing second in 1975 and 1976 and third in 1972 and 1983, Zamalek finally achieved continental supremacy by winning the FIBA Africa Clubs Champions Cup in 1992. They would not win their national title again until 1996/97, but retained it in 1997/98, also finishing second in the Africa Clubs Champions Cup in 1998 and winning the 1997/98 Egyptian Cup and 1997 and 1998 Egyptian Super Cup titles.
Zamalek started the new millennium with a spell of Egyptian Cup dominance, winning the tournament in 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2001/02, 2002/03 and 2005/06. However, despite Super League victories in 2002/03 and 2006/07, they struggled to keep pace with Gezira, Al Ittihad, Sporting Alexandria and Al Ahly.
In 2018/19, Zamalek finally returned to the summit of Egyptian basketball, although they lost their title to Al Ittihad the following season.
Star man: Anas Osama Mahmoud
Reasons for optimism: Zamalek have been African champions before in 1992 and have a rising star on their books in Louisville alum and Memphis Grizzlies summer league player Anas Osama Mahmoud.
Egyptian teams have generally fared well in Africa, even in recent years. Al Ahly won the 2016 Africa Clubs Championship, while Smouha finished third at the last tournament in 2018/19.
Zamalek have made the Egyptian Super League semi-finals this season, proving that they have a competitive side.
Reasons for concern: Zamalek’s 2018/19 league title was their first in 12 years and they lost it to Al Ittihad the following season. After finishing second to Ittihad in the 2020/21 regular season, it is debatable whether or not Zamalek are Egypt’s best side, let alone Africa’s.
Solms’s prediction: Semi-finals
AS Douanes (Senegal)
How did they qualify? Douanes qualified for the Basketball Africa League by winning the 2019 Senegalese Nationale 1 title with 14 wins and two defeats over the course of a 16-game season.
History: AS Douanes was founded in 1980 as the basketball division of a Senegalese customs organisation. The team only won its first Nationale 1 title in 1998, but became increasingly dominant of Senegalese basketball as the years passed.
The Dakar-based side appeared at the 2004 FIBA Africa Clubs Champions Cup, finishing seventh with a record of 0-3.
Star man: Chris Cockley
Reasons for optimism: They qualified for the Basketball Africa League by winning the Nationale 1 title for the fourth time running in 2019.
Reasons for concern: AS Douanes have never come close to being African champions. Although Senegalese clubs often competed for continental honours in the 1970s and 1980s, they have fallen off the pace in the decades since.
Solms’s prediction: Quarter-finals
GS Pétroliers (Algeria)
How did they qualify? Easily the dominant force in Algerian basketball since the turn of the millennium, GS Pétroliers qualified for the BAL by winning the West Division of its qualification tournament.
After surprise defeats to AS Police and FAP in the early rounds of the tournament, Pétroliers gained revenge on both of them in the semi-finals and final respectively.
History: The team was founded in 1921 and was previously part of the Mouloudia Club d’Alger (MC Alger) club before joining GS Pétroliers in 2008.
Despite a spell of dominance in the 1980s, the team only truly became the pride of Algeria in the 2000s, winning almost every league title this millennium.
Star man: Mohamed Seddik Touati
Reasons for optimism: Pétroliers have been Algeria’s dominant side for some time and were impressive in qualifying. They need not fear anyone in their group.
Reasons for concern: Neither Pétroliers nor any other Algerian team ever made the final of the FIBA Africa Champions Cup. For them to succeed at this tournament would be unprecedented.
Solms’s prediction: Quarter-finals
Ferroviário de Maputo (Mozambique)
How did they qualify? After winning their national championship, Ferroviário de Maputo finished third in the East Division of the Basketball Africa League qualifiers. They were beaten by GNBC in the semi-finals, but bounced back to book their place in the tournament with a 74-57 win over Uganda’s City Oilers.
History: Founded in October 1924, the club initially only played football prior to the formation of its basketball division in the 1960s. After Ferroviário de Maputo won their first league title in 2005, the floodgates opened and more followed in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Star man: Alvaro Calvo Masa
Reasons for optimism: With Spain’s 6.8ft Alvaro Calvo Masa occupying one of their foreign slots after starring in qualifying, Ferroviário de Maputo have a star player along with the element of surprise on their side.
Reasons for concern: Ferroviário de Maputo were unconvincing in the qualifying tournament and will not be among the favourites.
Solms’s prediction: Group stage
Center Serge Ibaka exercises option, will return to LA Clippers for second season, sources say
Ibaka picked up his $9.7-million option. The veteran center was the Clippers’ biggest addition during the past offseason in free agency but Ibaka was limited to just 41 regular season games with a back injury.
Ibaka missed 30 straight games with the injury before returning for the final two games of the regular season. He played in the Clippers’ first two playoff games against the Dallas Mavericks before undergoing back surgery later in the postseason.
Ibaka averaged 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in more than 23 minutes per game — his lowest average in playing time in a regular season since his first year in Oklahoma City in 2009-10. Ivica Zubac emerged as the starting center during Ibaka’s absence in the regular season. But Zubac missed the last two games of the Western Conference finals with a sprained MCL.
Ibaka’s player option decision was first reported by The Athletic.
Bobby Portis declining his option with Milwaukee Bucks, agent says
The most the Bucks can offer Portis is a $5.9 million exception, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
The 26-year-old Portis was one of the more effective sixth men in the NBA, averaging 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds during the regular season while averaging 52.3% shooting from the field.
He was a major contributor during the Bucks’ run to the NBA championship, averaging 8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds during the postseason.
Kevin Durant powers Team USA’s rout of Czech Republic on record night
SAITAMA, Japan — The best thing Team USA had going for it this summer was Kevin Durant committing to play. Saturday he reminded everyone why.
On a night when he became the all-time leading American scorer in the Olympics, Durant added another tremendous performance to his Team USA resume in a 119-84 victory over the Czech Republic.
The victory assured Team USA second place in their group and a place in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Their opponent and game time will be determined in a draw Sunday with the only certainty being there cannot be a rematch with France until at least the semifinals.
Because of their two blowouts wins the last two games, Team USA will end up with a favorable position and avoid top medal contenders Australia, Spain and potentially even Luka Doncic-led Slovenia in the quarters.
Durant finished with 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting, which of course was important for the cause, but his playmaking and defense was just as helpful as he put up eight rebounds and six assists as well. In the third quarter he was masterful, scoring 10 points with four of his assists as it went from a tight game into a comfortable blowout.
He’d had a pedestrian start in Tokyo, scoring just 20 points total in the first two games and shooting just 40%. Even in the run-up games in Vegas, Durant wasn’t moving at full speed as he admitted everything seemed like practice and he shot just 43% percent. Then he fouled out of the opening loss to France, a key factor in the Americans’ offensive struggles.
With Doncic, who scored 48 points in his first Olympic game, off to an impressive start and Australia’s Patty Mills putting up great performances, Durant had faded into the background in the tournament’s first week.
All that lethargy was gone Saturday as he looked for his shot early. The Czechs had gotten off to a strong start, making eight of their first 11 shots and building a 10-point lead. But Durant led a charge to overtake them, his 3-pointer in the second quarter giving the U.S. the lead for good.
It was a relevant basket, not just because it put the team in front, but because it pushed Durant past Carmelo Anthony for the all-time scoring lead. Durant’s international career is impeccable including the 2010 World Cup in Turkey, where he established himself as a centerpiece of the national team for the next decade.
It was also a slump-breaker evening for Jayson Tatum, who had his best game of the summer as he put up 27 points with five 3-pointers. Tatum, who was bothered by a minor knee injury in Vegas, had lost his starting spot. Coach Gregg Popovich had positioned him to be an impact scorer off the bench but he was shooting just 40% in the first two games.
Jrue Holiday, who was again terrific defensively as he pressured the ball relentlessly and picked off three steals, had 11 points.
The Czechs were led by Blake Schlib, who played at Loyola-Chicago, with 17 points.
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