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''Competing in the BAL will change basketball in Cameroon,'' says FAP captain Akumenzoh
YAOUNDE (Cameroon) - There’s always a flurry of excitement that grips hold of Ebaku Akumenzoh when he contemplates about hitting the court.
The 2m (6ft7in) Power Forward's enthusiasm trickles down to his side FAP of Yaoundé having qualified for the maiden Basketball Africa League-a tournament jointly organized by FIBA and the NBA whose tip-off was pushed forward due to the COVD-19 pandemic.
Better than anyone else, Akumenzoh who’s been on the books of FAP for more than eight years understand the angst that diehards of the outfit have had to deal with as qualification for a continental tournament eluded the team for close to eight years.
The 31-year old who captained the team to qualification for the BAL is still in awe at what the outfit achieved on home court.
"It’s been a very long struggle for FAP. We’ve been trying for close to a decade to play our way into a continental competition."
"We always felt like this was never going to happen because we had a lot of talented players who came to the team yet we weren’t able to achieve anything significant."
"When we came through at the Zone 4 qualifiers and had to play the Basketball Africa League Qualifying Tournament, as a team we came together and spoke over what we had to do."
"Playing on home court was a golden opportunity for us to qualify for such a historic event and we told ourselves we weren’t going to let this chance slip through our hands," Akumenzoh explained.
True to their pre-tournament goal, FAP played with verve and unique determination acceding to the final of the BAL Qualifiers West Division, and as result punched their ticket for the 12-team jamboree.
But with the post-qualification euphoria now settled, the Buea native has been reflecting on how FAP can pull up trees coming up against the continent’s best basketball clubs.
He thinks the key ingredient to impressing in Africa’s premier men’s basketball league is consistency.
"Consistency is what we need. We have to be regular on offense and defence if we want to play well in the tournament."
"We have to be focused because we’ll be up against some incredible clubs and players but if we can set up as a block with a good mentality then perhaps we could come up with a few surprises."
"We had a session with our coach where he singled out the strengths and weaknesses of every player and this is what we’ve been working on."
Impressing in the African bonanza will be surreal for the Cameroonian side but the FAP captain is upbeat getting to play in the BAL will have major spinoffs in the development of local basketball.
He thinks the talent drain that’s been witnessed in the country will be curtailed with many more youngsters committing to play the sport on the continent.
"Competing in the BAL will change basketball in Cameroon. It’s an opportunity for us to show the talent that we have. I believe it will spur other local outfits to make more investments because they would want to play in the BAL."
"With the BAL we can actually be basketballers, athletes who are appreciated to their real level because this is a competition which I believe will give the sport an unrivalled exposure."
"The mentality now is changing. A lot of the young kids who came to watch us during the qualifiers have started realizing that then can actually play the game on the continent and make a decent living."
"I know a lot of persons who felt that to excel as a basketballer you must emigrate to Europe, America or Asia. But having seen what we achieved coupled with the branding around the event, they’re giving up on their plans of travelling abroad to focus on playing on the continent,"Akumenzoh chuckled.
He went on saying that: "Every domestic outfits have massive ambitions to play in the next BAL. Some are investing now on scouting and proper training conditions because they want to have the best players. I personally feel with the current impact of the BAL we can have a healthier ecosystem around the sport in the country."
"🇨🇲🙌 The crowd is the reason we won. They motivated us and continued supporting even when we were losing (...) it’s a major boost for the players."— #BasketballAfricaLeague Qualifying Tournaments (@AfricaLeague) November 29, 2019
🗣 FAP coach Gilles Kouamo pic.twitter.com/cp6YE5dkFH
Whatever happens with FAP in the inaugural BAL, the Cameroon international believes him and mates would've made significant impact to dent the way basketball is perceived and managed in the central African nation.
"For the younger players it’s a source of motivation. Youths can stay here, work hard, get a good deal and take care of their families.
"We’ve succeeded in making an impact with qualifying for the BAL and performing remarkably in the league would be huge for Cameroonian basketball," Akumenzoh concluded.