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BAL - Why African basketball is on the rise
LEEDS (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - Whether or not the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) will take this place this year, the excitement about the competition seen by many as the game-changer in Africa remains very much alive.
Journalists, bloggers, commentators, scouts, agents, and, more importantly, players, can't wait for the day the BAL announces more concrete measures about the start of the competition, which has been postponed since the COVID-19 outbreak began in March.
The following statement has been issued: pic.twitter.com/EUGEaYCBcP— Basketball Africa League (@theBAL) March 4, 2020
If the 2020 BAL season is to take place this year, it will probably be in a different format from the original one, which divided the twelve clubs in two groups and expected to see teams play home-and-away games.
The possibility of BAL games being played behind closed doors this year hasn't been ruled out by officials, so has the possibility of convening all twelve teams in a single location to decide the winner of the inaugural BAL.
With many players expressing excitement - private or publicly - about the new partnership between FIBA and the NBA, I called on Wayne Arnold - a 36-year-old shooting guard who made his name by himself in the African basketball landscape in recent years, to share his view on the Basketball Africa League.
"I believe the BAL will bring lots of change in how basketball is cultivated within the continent," said the man who lifted Egypt giants Al Ahly to their first-ever continental title four years ago, and, as a result, was named the 2016 FIBA Africa Champions Cup Most Valuable Player.
Wayne who last played for Morocco and and former African champions Association Sportive Sale is a free-agent.
He says he would like to see himself play in the BAL. "It became a goal of mine when I first heard about it. It was actually the main reason I kept coming back to play," he admitted.
Caught up in the middle of the pandemic in Morocco, Arnold remains positive about his future in Africa basketball.
Wayne Arnold is seen here in action in the Final of the 2019 FIBA AfroLeague against eventual champions Primeiro D'Agosto
"[BAL] It’s a great partnership. With FIBA and the NBA being the top organisations in the industry, they have set the standard in how a professional sports organisation should operate and function. Looking at the player and coach development, economic impact, public relations, marketing, financial stability, etc., I feel that basketball within Africa is on the rise."
Having spent significant part of his professional career in Japan, the American, whose first African basketball experience took him to Angola, where he featured for current champions Petro de Angola, insists that he has seen it all on the continent.
He too believes that aspiring athletes and basketball players in particular have a mission to keep the game growing.
"You have to block out the noise," Arnold replied when I asked him for a message to younger players. "Basically, there will be lots of distractions and obstacles to keep you off your path or make things extremely difficult. If you really want to become a professional athlete, you need to insulate yourself mentality from all doubt and distractions. Work on your craft tirelessly. Don’t let anyone outwork you. If you are passionate about this game, it will show in your performance."
With youth African teams like Mali making waves on the world stage, and more and more Africa-born players becoming household names in major basketball leagues around the world in recent years, the BAL project couldn't have come at the right time.
As Arnold says, African basketball really is on the rise.
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