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Africa Basketball League 2019's All-Star Team according to FINAL FOUR head coaches
LEEDS (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - FIBA Africa named Eduardo Mingas, Manny Quezada, James Justice Jr, Soufiane Kourdou and Abderrahim Najah as the top performers of the recently concluded FIBA Africa Basketball League 2019 FINAL FOUR, but how head coaches would have voted for is the focus of today's column.
After almost four months of intense competition, which saw 16 clubs from all corners of Africa battling it out for the top prize, things looked promising when the last four teams reached Luanda for the eagerly-anticipated decider event.
A joint press conference conducted by head coaches Zeljko Zecevic (AS Sale) Paulo Macedo (1 Agosto), Riadh Abdallah (JS Kairouan) & Smouha’s assistant Mohamed Rzek ahead of @AfricaLeague 2019 Final Four. #Luanda @EBBFED @SmouhaBasket @AngolanBasket @ftbb_tunisie #Morocco pic.twitter.com/0DdSKcbbsW— Júlio Chitunda (@JChitunda) May 23, 2019
Then defending champions Association Sportive Sale of Morocco, Tunisia's JS Kairouan and Smouha Sporting Club of Egypt traveled to the Southern part of Africa in an attempt to prevent Angola's Primeiro D'Agosto from winning their ninth continental trophy.
However, three days later, Primeiro D'Agosto not only outplayed Smouha SC in the semifinal before beating AS Sale in the Championship Game in front of a rowdy home crowd, but they also established a new record for most wins in FIBA Africa's clubs competition.
In the process, D'Agosto completed a 2018-19 season's treble after winning Angola's Super Cup and National Cup.
What were the tournament's highlights, and how coaches would have voted for?
In the absence of a post-Final Four press conference, I later reached out Zeljko Zecevic (AS Sale), Paulo Macedo (D'Agosto), Riadh Ben Abdallah (JS Kairouan) and Ashrif Tawfek (Smouah SC) and asked them to share their thoughts on the competition.
"There is no question who the FINAL FOUR MVP was. To me, Eduardo Mingas deserved the trophy for putting his body on the line. He did everything right to help his team win. I applaud his tenacity and desire to win," said Ben Abdallah.
Riadh Ben Abdallah (JS Kairouan)
"As for the All-Star team, it is about right to me, although I would have added Radhouane Slimane (JS Kairouan) along with Manny Quezada, Eduardo Mingas, James Justice Jr. and Abderrahim Najah. Unfortunately for my team, Malick Nguirane wasn't so great in the Final Four. He averaged fifty percent from the free-throw line, and AS Sale took advantage of it. We could have done better because our focus was to win the trophy or finish third, but [Smouha's] James Justice played at such high level. Hopefully, next time we'll give our fans something to cheer about."
Coach Zecevic liked what local players were able to show.
Zeljko Zecevic (AS Sale)
"I am not looking at numbers, best scorers, top rebounders or anything like that. Armando Costa (D’Agosto), Ahmed Azab (Smouha SC), Jawar Jawadi (JS Kairouan), Eduardo Mingas (D’Agosto) and Soufiane Kourdu (AS Sale). These are the players that impressed me the most throughout the season," the Serbian play-caller noted, adding: "[Etoile Sportive Rades'] Mohamed Hadidane could easily have made this list too."
As for the Most Valuable Player, Zecevic had no doubts: "Of course...Eduardo Mingas. He merited the award."
He continued: "As opposed to the former FIBA Africa Champions Cup, this new format [FINAL FOUR] gave fans from all countries involved a chance to watch other excellent teams from Africa. The organisation of the Final Four was excellent. As the host country, Angola did the best the could. Teams had the necessary means to practice. I hope everybody involved in the FINAL FOUR is proud for the beautiful event although I think the tournament's calendar should have suited all teams.
Ashrif Tawfek (Smouha SC)
Just a few days after leading Smouha SC to the third place [in their first-ever continental appearance], coach Ashrif Tawfek signed for Egypt's Al Ahly last week. But before he starts his new job in Cairo in a few weeks time, he spelled out his FINAL FOUR views.
"I honestly like and respect what coach Paulo Macedo was able to achieve with Primeiro D'Agosto. I have met him many times before the FINAL FOUR. His team managed to have two players for each position, which is great. It was a tough competition overall. I have to say, had we played AS Sale or JS Kairouan in the semifinal we would have reached the final. D'Agosto was too strong for us in the semis. I have no doubts that Eduardo Mingas's experience made a tremendous difference. And, of course, he deserved to win the MVP award. He can shoot, assist, rebound, play defense. He can do it all.
"Mingas, Justice Jr. Manny Quezada, Soufiane Kourdou and Wayne Arnold. These were the top five players for me. [Abdelhakim] Zouita is a very, very good player. He was brilliant in the first two quarters of the final, but somehow he struggled for the remaining of the game, and this proved difficult for AS Sale in the final."
And what does 1992 Barcelona Olympian Paulo Macedo have to say about his team's latest success?
Paulo Macedo (Primeiro D'Agosto)
"We started the season focused on winning every competition we were involved. Unfortunately we lost the Angolan Championship against Petro [Atletico de Luanda], but we are proud of three trophies we won this season," Macedo noted, adding: "Here's my 'FIVE': Manny Quezada, Eduardo Mingas, Lawrence Gilbert (JS Kairouan), James Justice Jr. and Soufiane Kourdou. For everything they did throughout the AfroLeague 2019, I have no other choice to choose from. I could have added Reginald Holmes (Al Ahly), a great shooter that any coach would love to work with. They were great throughout.
He continued: "This competition can''t just be judged by the Final Four teams because I was pleasant surprised to realise how good players and teams Africa has. Mingas was unquestionably the MVP."
During a joint-press conference a day before the 2019 FIBA Africa Basketball League Final Four in Luanda, all teams indicated willingness to do everything in their power to take the trophy home, but it was business as usual for Primeiro D'Agosto.
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