FINAL FOUR - Who will be crowned champions of the Africa Basketball League 2019?
LUANDA (Angola) - Four teams from four countries will do battle for the right to be crowned this year's FIBA Africa Basketball League (ABL) in Luanda, Angola.
For three days, starting Friday, May 24, three North African teams - Association Sportive of Salé of Morocco, Egypt's Smouha Sporting Club and Jeunesse Sportive Kairouan from Tunisia - will travel to the Angolan capital in attempt to prevent Africa's most successful basketball team Primeiro D'Agosto of Angola from winning a ninth continental title.
In Friday's semifinals, JS Kairouan will go up against reigning African champions AS Salé while Smouha SC will test continental heavyweight D'Agosto.
🇲🇦👑 Can AS Salé retain their title?#TBT #AfricaLeague #Morocco #GroupPhase #Elite8 pic.twitter.com/RE5yNMesvG— Africa Basketball League (@AfricaLeague) May 9, 2019
Saturday will be a rest day, a chance for teams to recharge batteries for the last day of the competition, which will determine this year's FIBA ABL top-three clubs.
How did they qualify?
Undefeated in three Group D games, Smouha SC extended their winning streak by shocking 2016 African champions Al Ahly in the-two games series (179-163 on aggregate) in the ELITE 8 Round.
Smouha SC's stellar campaign began with triumphs over Angola's Petro Atletico de Luanda, AS Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar's Club Omnisports Police Nationale.
The Alexandria-based club head to the Last Four with a respectable 5-0 record.
As the only FINAL FOUR participant that registered a defeat in the Group Phase, JS Kairouan's 4-1 mark resulted from two victories (over Nigeria's Rivers Hoopers, and one against SLAC from Guinea) followed by a defeat against AS Salé in Group A.
And, against all the odds, JS Kairouan shocked then Tunisia's reigning champions Etoile Sportoive Rades in the ELITE 8 tie to move on to the highly-anticipated FINAL FOUR.
Just like their semifinal opponents Smouha SC, Primeiro D'Agosto cruised to the Last Four on the back of five wins in as many games.
And before beating Angolan and continental rivals Petro Atletico de Luanda in the Quarter-Finals, the eight-time African champions dispatched Al Ahly, Rwanda's REG Basketball and Ferroviario da Beira of Mozambique.
AS Salé saw off SLAC, JS Kairouan and Rivers Hoopers in Group A. The Moroccans' Sale's 165-146 win on aggregate against Nigeria's Defenders Basketball in the ELITE 8 series came on the back of a 69-all draw in the first leg in Lagos.
Players to watch
Four former MVPs - D'Agosto's Eduardo Mingas (2014) and Emmanuel Quezada (2015) and AS Sale's duo of Wayne Arnold (2016) and Abdelhakim Zouita (2017) - headline a list of FINAL FOUR 2019's talents to watch.
When it comes to scoring, Smouha SC's James Justice Jr. and JS Kairouan's Senegalese international Maodo Nguirane have been fundamental, averaging 18.4 points per game each in five games. The duo is followed by JS Kairouan's Lawrence Gilbert Jr and D'Agosto Emmanuel Quezada who averaged 16.6 and 16 points, respectively
👀 @SmouhaOfficial PG James Justice Jr showcased his great court vision yesterday: 10 dishes vs @AlAhly!— Africa Basketball League (@AfricaLeague) April 8, 2019
➡ https://t.co/E3PfgLmlPU pic.twitter.com/PzFl5Boikr
JS Kairouan's Ahmed Dhif and James Jr. dominate the leaderboard with almost six assists per game each, while Nguirane - the only FINAL FOUR participant with four double-doubles - appears as the most prolific rebounder with eleven boards per game.
- Association Sportive Salé - head to the FINAL FOUR as finalists of Morocco's Cup of the King - an important competition in the Kingdom to be played after the Luanda-showdown. Winners of the last three editions of Morocco League, they have just made a huge step after reaching the 2019 Morocco League's semifinals.
- Although D’Agosto enter the FINAL FOUR as runners-up of the 2019 Angola League - after losing to Petro Atletico de Luanda in Game 6 of the best-of-7 playoffs final, D'Agosto not only target a historic treble this season - after winning the 2019 Angola Cup as well as the SuperCup - but they also look for their ninth Africa title.
Parabéns ao Petro Atletico de Luanda. 🏆🏆🏆🏀🏀🇦🇴— Angola Basketball (@AngolanBasket) May 17, 2019
Campeão Nacional UNITEL Basket 2018-19.
Os Petroliferos venceram o Primeiro D'Agosto 88-82 no jogo 6, fechando os play-offs em 4-2.
CHAMPIONS 2018-19#AfricaLeague #AfricaBasketball #FINAL pic.twitter.com/oy1IClKWLD
Despite a brilliant ABL campaign things didn't go according to plan for JS Kairouan in the domestic league as they lost to eventual champions US Monastir in the Playoff semifinals.
In a bid to a successful FINAL FOUR, JS Kairouan have signed experienced Tunisian international Slimane Radhouane.
🇹🇳☝ JS Kairouan nailed their debut on the continental stage! Can they claim a spot in the #AfricaLeague Final?#JSK #Kairouan @ftbb_tunisie #FinalFour pic.twitter.com/HfSNVeEbfP— Africa Basketball League (@AfricaLeague) May 18, 2019
Similarly to JS Kairouan, at domestic level, Smouha Sporting Club saw their championship intentions come to a close in Egypt's SuperLeague after losing 2-1 against Al Ahly in in Quarter-Finals.
How to watch the FIBA ABL 2019 FINAL FOUR?
All games will be shown on FIBA's Youtube channel, and a live commentary will be available on the ABL website.
For three months, sixteen teams from eleven African countries played a total of 56 games so far. Now it's the decision time. Who you got?