Rwanda: Excitement as BAL Tips Off in Kigali

The historic inaugural season of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) tips off Sunday here in Kigali, Rwanda and will run to May 30.

The BAL, a brainchild of the NBA and FIBA, is a multimillion-dollar project that has been in the making for a while, but a shortage of modern infrastructure and the Covid-19 pandemic among other issues delayed what many basketball enthusiasts have already labelled the "African sports dream".

The season was initially scheduled to tip-off in March 2020 in Dakar, Senegal, but was postponed due to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.

But it's finally here, despite being held under strict health guidelines with players being accommodated in the NBA-like bubble limiting external contact.

The BAL's inaugural season, which was initially planned to be played under a regular-season format, will instead be played in groups due to the delay caused by the pandemic.

Hosted at the state of the art Kigali Arena, a 10,000-seater stadium, the BAL is the first-ever Pan-African professional basketball competition bringing together 12 best clubs from across Africa for a month-long tournament that will decide who holds the continental title for at least a year.

From GNBC in the Island nation of Madagascar through Petro de Luanda in Angola and Rivers Hoopers in Nigeria to Egypt's Zamalek Sporting Club in the north, Africa is well represented in the inaugural season of BAL.

Hosts Rwanda will be represented by Patriots Basketball Club, a fan-based franchise that was formed less than 10 years ago but has since become a basketball powerhouse in the "Land of a thousand hills" and the region, to be fair.

The other teams include Mozambique's Ferroviàrio de Maputo, Mali's AS Police, Tunisia's US Monastir, Senegal's AS Douanes, Morocco's AS Salé, Cameroon's FAP Cameroun, and Algeria's GSP.

The Rwandan champions, Patriots are in the group of death (A) alongside Nigerian giants Rivers Hoopers who will face each other in the first game of the tournament on Sunday, at 5pm EAT. The other teams in Group "A" include Tunisia's US Monastir and the Malagasy basketball club, GNBC.

While the Nigerian side, Riber Hoopers have acquired the services of Ben Uzoh, a former NBA player who featured for several franchises such as the New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the Rwandan side added an unlikely name on their roster in the American Rapper Jermain Cole, popularly known as J.Cole.

J.Cole, who played basketball in high school and college before becoming a renowned and successful rapper, is not on the team roster to warm the reserve seats but to impress, according to his coach Alan Major.

"He (Cole) wants to be a regular guy. He is not looking for special attention. He just wants to enjoy basketball, " Major said in an interview.

Available figures show that at least nine players in the BAL inaugural season have either NBA or NBA G League experiences, twenty-one players have NCAA Division 1 experience, with 11 of the 12 teams featuring at least one former Division 1 player.

The BAL games will air live across the continent on ESPN, DSTV and Canal+ according to the organisers.

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