BAL: Preview of Rivers Hoopers & other teams in Sahara Conference

BAL: Preview of Rivers Hoopers & other teams in Sahara Conference

The outcomes have been decided in two of the three conferences in this season’s Basketball Africa League (BAL), and attention now shifts to the Sahara Conference in Dakar, Senegal.

The Sahara Conference, which headlines the last round of the group phase before the playoffs, will feature four teams competing in 12 games at the Dakar Arena from May 4–12.

Last season’s finalists, AS Douanes, who are the Sahara Conference hosts, 2022 winners US Monastir, Rwanda’s APR, and Nigerian champions Rivers Hoopers, are all drawn against each other in the conference.

Ahead of the commencement of the games, on Saturday, May 4, Afrosport dissects each of these teams, taking a deep look into their history and qualification route for the fourth season of the BAL.

AS Douanes (Senegal)

Coach: Pabi Gueye

Best BAL performance: Runners-up (2023)

The host of the Sahara Conference, AS Douanes, are one of the favourites to win this season’s BAL, having finished as runners-up last time out in 2023, losing to Al Ahly 80-65 in the final.

AS Douanes, Senegal’s most successful basketball team, has won eleven national championships, including three of the last five. This will be their third appearance at the BAL, and they made it to the playoffs in their two previous outings, crashing out in the quarterfinals in 2021 and losing in the final last year.

The Senegalese champions are really star-studded, boasting national team players, including team captain Alkaly Ndour and guard Jean Jacques Boissy, who was named to the All-BAL First Team and BAL All-Defensive Team in 2023.

AS Douanes are under the tutelage of Pabi Gueye, who led them to the final last time out and also won the BAL Coach of the Year Award.

APR (Rwanda)

Coach: Mazen “Maz” Trakh

Best BAL performance: Debut (2024)

Rwanda’s most successful basketball team and current national champion, APR, would be making their debut in the BAL. The Kigali-based team has won a record 14 Rwanda Basketball League (RBL) titles, as well as claiming the bronze medal in one of their three appearances at the FIBA Africa Clubs Champions Cup.

Having won their national league, APR qualified automatically for this season’s BAL. Despite being debutants, they shouldn’t be seen as minnows, as they would be led by the experience of former OKC Thunder and Washington Wizards assistant coach Mazen Trakh, who led them to the RBL title in 2023 while also claiming the Coach of the Year Award.

US Monastir (Tunisia)

Coach: Mohammed Kardani

Best BAL performance: Winners (2022)

US Monastir, one of the most experienced sides in the BAL, is gearing up for their fourth appearance in the tournament.

The Tunisian champions, who have won the last five national league titles, have enjoyed success in the BAL, reaching the finals twice in 2021 and 2022. They claimed their first and only BAL title in the second edition in 2022 when they beat Angola’s Petro de Luanda 83-72 in the final.

In the last edition, US Monastir failed to make it out of the conference, finishing in fifth place in the standings. They head to the BAL with a new coach in Mohammed Kardani, and many expect them to make it out of the conference.

Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria)

Coach: Ogoh Odaudu

Best BAL performance: Group Stage (2021)

The Rivers Hoopers are making a return to the BAL scenery after they made their debut in the maiden edition in 2021. The Port Harcourt-based team are the reigning Nigerian champions, and they have won their national league five times, including three of the last five (2019, 2021, and 2023).

Like the other three teams in the Sahara Conference, the Hoopers qualified automatically as one of six national champions. Their debut three years ago didn’t go as expected as they ended third in Group A, which US Monastir topped, having won just one of three games.

Coached by former D’Tigers point guard Ogoh Odaudu, The King’s Men, as they are fondly called, would be looking to progress to the playoffs and make history as the first Nigerian team to do so in the BAL, as they have added some serious firepower to their arsenal, including D’Tigers forward Devine Eke, American guard Will Perry and former Stade Malien star Kelvin Amayo.

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