The Nigerian Rivers Hoopers will play the Patriots of Rwanda in Sunday's opening game of the Basketball Africa League in Kigali. For VOA's "Sonny Side of Sports" program, Mike Mbonye spoke to Ronald Alalibo, 27, a shooting guard from Nigeria and vice captain of the Rivers Hoopers, who said that after a year of postponements because of COVID-19, the 12 teams were ready to compete.
The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: With 12 teams from around the continent, what are your thoughts on the grouping?
Alalibo: Rivers Hoopers being in Group A, with the Madagascar side, the Tunisian side, and the host Rwandan side, is not by mistake because it was done by the BAL themselves. I don't think [any] team ... [is] a pushover. Likewise, we, too, are not a pushover, but agreed that everybody is coming to be the best out of the group.
So they are pushing. We are not underrating anybody. We just prepared our minds to face one game as it comes. So the group, I would say, as much as everybody's beatable, likewise, we, too, are beatable. But we just have to put our acts together not to be beatable because we want to come out [on] top or to qualify from the group.
VOA: Rivers Hoopers will tip off the basketball Africa League Tournament on Sunday against the home team, the Patriots of Rwanda. Are you scared or intimidated?
Alalibo: We have the very first game of the tournament against the hosting Patriots of Rwanda, and we are not scared nor intimidated by knowing there are factors that we are considering -- the home fans, I know they're home and all these things that come with home -- the energy.
But it's not a new thing, though it is a new tournament. ... We'll try our best to see if we can contain the pressure that comes around. So, I don't think we are scared or intimidated in any way. We'll face the game head up, do the things that [are] needed for us to do to win the game.
VOA: What is the mood and the calm ahead of the commencement of the tournament?
Alalibo: Our moods, well, the moods are hyped. You know, when you've been in a containment for far too long, you will be so anxious for the game to commence so that you showcase what you have been preparing for.
I know BAL is one of a kind. It is the inaugural edition and everybody's looking on to [play] anyone, and like we, the Rivers Hoopers, as you know, Nigeria. This mentality [is] of the Nigerian side being the best, one of the best in Africa.
Everybody will be looking up to us ... to show what kind of skill that you have to put on the floor. At the same time to our fans back home, they're all looking up to us.
By the same time, every mood in the camp is so hyped. They can't wait to just step on the floor and play basketball -- good basketball, to be precise. So, morale is high. Everybody's hyped and ready to play basketball.
I know the COVID-19 protocol that is in place [is] making us to just not to talk to ourselves [but] more about trying as much as possible to communicate to ourselves virtually, to cycle ourselves to keep the energy alive, to keep the energy going. You know this is very big compared to every tournament that most of us played.