Basketball Africa League: Ex-NBA player Ben Uzoh says it 'will change lives'

By Michelle KatamiBBC Sport Africa, Kenya
Basketball Africa League president Amadou Gallo Fall (centre) with the ceremonial tip off of the first game of the competition between Nigeria's Rivers Hoopers and Rwanda's Patriots
Basketball Africa League president Amadou Gallo Fall (centre) with the ceremonial tip off of the first game of the competition between Nigeria's Rivers Hoopers and Rwanda's Patriots

"Africa..We are here! Game on!" are the words used by Amadou Gallo Fall to launch the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL).

Fall, BAL's Senegalese president, was on hand for Sunday's ceremonial tip-off of the NBA-backed competition at the Kigali Arena in Rwanda.

The honour of scoring the first ever points in BAL went to Nigeria international and former NBA player Ben Uzoh, unfortunately his River Hoopers side lost 83-60 to Rwandan side Patriots.

"It will change lives. This is going to create opportunities for the people across the continent to feed their families," Uzoh told BBC Sport Africa.

"It is the NBA of Africa, and so for a kid that is growing up here on the continent this is something they can call theirs and sets up the ballers of the future. That in itself is very powerful. It is transforming."

The ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic means that all the games are being played at the 10,000-seater Kigali arena instead of the initial plan of using seven host cities around the continent.

Despite the pandemic 1,500 spectators and invited dignitaries were allowed into the vibrant, colourful arena bedecked in Rwanda's national colours of blue, green and yellow.

Those lucky enough to be inside the arena gave their backing to the 'home' team with cheers and chants of "Let's go Patriots, Let's go" and "Defence! Defence! Defence!"

There was also the added excitement of Grammy award-winning US rapper J Cole making his debut for the Patriots and also getting on the scoresheet.

Making history

Basketball Africa League president Amadou Gallo Fall (centre) with the captains of the 12 teams taking part in the inaugural league
Basketball Africa League president Amadou Gallo Fall (centre) with the captains of the 12 teams taking part in the inaugural league

The fans were not disappointed as the Patriots rallied from losing the first quarter to win the match much to the delight of the team's American head coach Alan Major.

"It is very humble to be a part of this history making event and I am really happy for our guys. Secondly to come out and win this game, the first game in this historic event," he said after the win.

The Patriots' shooting guard Dieudonne Ndizeye was equally pleased to be part of the moment.

"I feel blessed, it is a great opportunity to grace this league, it is a big league, we have 12 teams from Africa, so I feel blessed to be part of this great to this league," he said.

"Our guys didn't take this opportunity lightly at all, they wanted to represent Rwanda, the Patriots organization, and the city of Kigali.

"So a lot of heart was poured into this game. So I am just so just very proud with the way they conducted themselves."

While it was a disappointing loss for the River Hoopers their players also happy that the BAL has got underway after being delayed last year due to coronavirus.

"I am definitely excited as others the inaugural season has tipped off. This a great opportunity going forward for so many future kids," Hoopers' forward Taren Sullivan insisted.

"There is a lot of energy, there is a lot of potential and a lot of excitement, obviously, we didn't get the results we wanted."

There are 12 teams involved and for the inaugural season split into three pools with the top two, plus the two best third-placed sides overall, qualifying for the knock-out phase, which starts with the quarter-finals.

There will be 26 games in total with the final two weeks later on the 30th.

The format has been adjusted, with fewer games than originally planned, because of Covid, with league organisers saying they will have robust safety protocols in place to combat the virus.

Group AGroup BGroup C
GNBC (Madagascar)Petro de Luanda (Angola)GSP (Algeria)
Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria)FAP (Cameroon)Zamalek (Egypt)
Patriots BBC (Rwanda)AS Police (Mali)Ferroviàrio de Maputo (Mozambique)
US Monastir (Tunisia)AS Sale (Morocco)AS Douanes (Senegal)