03 October, 2023
26 November
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BAL Qualifiers - East Division Elite 16 tells a story of growth


JOHANNESBURG (South Africa) - An action-packed six days at the Ellis Park Arena where the East Division Elite 16 Basketball Africa League (BAL) qualifiers were hosted produced the final 3 teams headed to next year's competition. 

Hosts Cape Town Tigers, City Oilers of Uganda and Burundi's Dynamo BBC have completed that list for what will be the fourth edition of BAL, set to be played in three cities with the Playoff Final 8 returning to Kigali, Rwanda. 

Eight teams assembled in Johannesburg with seven chasing qualification while the eighth, NBA Academy Africa, was using the competition as part of their build-up for upcoming NBA competitions in the USA and stood no chance at qualification. 

For the second time in a row, NBA Academy finished 2-1 in theEast Division Elite 16

The other seven were divided into two groups, Dynamo BBC who earned a wild card from Group C of the pre-qualifiers taking on the group's winner Pazi BBC of Tanzania, Tigers and NBA Academy Africa in Group A. 

Nine-time Ugandan champions City Oilers, Ferroviario da Beira (Mozambique), JBC (Zimbabwe) and Club Omnisport Police Nationale (COSPN) of Madagascar clashing in Group B.

Coming into the competition, Tigers and Pazi were favourites in group A but the latter came short when it mattered, falling 88-85 to familiar foes, Dynamo to exit the competition winless after initial losses to NBA Academy Africa (84-57) and Tigers (95-87).

Pazi exited the Elite 16 after an abysmal campaign, finishing 0-3

A similar scenario manifested in Group B where the Mozambique representatives who were chasing a third appearance in BAL and were seen as favourites alongside the Oilers, finished third in the group to miss out on the Last Four.

An 88-57 loss to COSPN who were playing in the Elite 16 for the second time stunned Beira, leaving them with an uphill task against Oilers. A 100-86 loss to Mandy Juruni's Oilers ensured that Mozambique would, for the first time since the inaugural edition, have no representative in the elite men's club basketball competition. 

In the semis, there were no surprises as Oilers beat their East African rivals Dynamo 72-61 with Robinson Opong contributing a match-high 17 points, 15 off threes in the win. 

Titus Odeke celebrates City Oilers' qualification to the BAL with Parrish Petty

Titus Odeke, who had started the competition slow, finishing without a point in the side's first match against COSPN and 3 against JBC sprung to life, becoming the Ugandan side's new evaluation with 14 points in the semis. 

Meanwhile, Mlungisi Ngwenya's Tigers had Nkosinathi Sandile Sibanyoni to thank for his man-of-the-match performance in the second semi against a hard-fighting COSPN for a 67-63 victory that sent the South African champions to their third BAL. 

The Final was decided by a last-minute Cartier Diarra jumper leading Tigers to a 70-68 win over Oilers. 

Cape Town Tigers protected their home-court with a 5-0 mark

"The focus now shifts to preparing well for the fourth edition of BAL. We are a very ambitious club and we want to be one of the top teams in Africa. The competition goes a notch higher and with that in mind, we will be looking to do better than we did in the last edition where we won one match and lost two closely," coach Juruni told FIBA. basketball in his final interview 

"We have to head to the Final 12 with a winning mentality. We also have to give ourselves enough time to get conditioned to that level and give ourselves a fighting chance," Juruni added. 

His opposite number, Mlungisi underscored the importance of going unbeaten in the Elite 16. In their last BAL outing, Tigers went 2-3 in the Conferences to place fourth and make it to the Playoffs but lost to Stade Malien in the quarters. 

"This is probably the strongest Elite 16 we have competed in. Certainly, there is no longer a 'small team' in this competition. COSPN and JBC came in and changed that mentality by playing good basketball and being very competitive and this shows that the standards go up with each edition," Mlungisi noted.

Mandy Juruni

The former head coach of South Africa men's national team continued: "We go back to the Final 12 with the experience of how it feels to get stuck in the quarters. We will try and break that barrier and will need to get the team together early and have good preparations. 

"We are also looking to stage a couple of tournaments as part of our build-up while also making a few adjustments in terms of management and getting more talent in as we look to be battle-ready for March," Mlungisi observed. 

The final ticket to the 2024 BAL came down to a dogfight between Burundi's Dynamo and Madagascar's COSPN with the former writing history since the inception of BAL. 

The Olivier Ndayiragije-coached secured the last slot for the fourth BAL season thanks to a nail-biting 79-78 win, becoming the first team benefitting from an Elite 16 wild card to qualify for the BAL Finals, and the first Burundian side to join the continent's clubs premier basketball competition.

As curtains came down on the final qualifying tournament to BAL, new stars were born and the 'underdog' tag was trashed as favourites fell by the wayside with every team competing at the highest possible level.