03 October, 2023
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What the players are saying ahead of East Division Elite 16

 

JOHANNESBURG (South Africa) - None of the eight teams in South Africa for the Elite 16 East Division Basketball Africa League (BAL) qualifiers is counting themselves out. 

As such, with just three slots up for grabs at the end of the six days, expectations are high, with each team strategising for that podium finish that puts them among the Final 12 ahead of the 2024 BAL season.

From intense training sessions to beefed-up squads, the competition is promising to offer cut-throat matches loaded with edge-of-the-seat action as teams look to qualify for Season 4 of the elite men's basketball club competition.  

FIBA.basketball spoke to a few players about what playing at this stage means to them.

Israel Otobo (Dynamo) 

At the tender age of 19, the Nigerian International has already made a name for himself during the Group C qualifiers in Tanzania, helping the Burundi champions finish runners-up to benefit from a wild card from the organisers.

Israel Otobo (75) 

"This is my first time playing in the BAL qualifiers and it has been both exciting and challenging. In Tanzania, we had a relatively good outing but Pazi got the better of us so this is another opportunity for the team to fight to be in the BAL." - Israel Otobo. 

"Being here is a wonderful experience. It is a great opportunity for me to work on my craft and see what the future holds. We come in as underdogs but I believe we can do better than we did in Tanzania and pull some surprises." 

William Perry (Ferroviario da Beira) 

Ferroviario da Beira are hunting for a third-consecutive slot in the BAL Final 12, a feat that would see them make history as the first team (or second if Cape Town Tigers can achieve the same) to achieve that through the Road to BAL. 

In 2022, they made it to the final but missed out on the Playoffs in Rwanda, making a breakthrough in 2023 but falling in the quarters 93-73 to AS Douanes. 

William Perry (12) 

"We are ready to go, having prepared as well as we possibly could. We made the Final 12 in 2022 and 2023 and we hope to make it three in a row. I know this is going to be the toughest test for us as teams have recruited better so the competition is expected to match that." - William Perry. 

"We won the Elite in 2022 and lost the championship to Tigers last year but now we want to win it all. Making it to the BAL is the goal but if we could carry the day on the final day that would be a plus. 

"It means a lot to the team and the country to be here and we want to make history together." 

Livio Ratianarivo (COSPN) 

Madagascar’s Club Omnisport de Police Nationale (COSPN) are back in Johannesburg where they played in the Elite 16 in 2022 hoping to overturn their poor 0-3 run from back then. 

Coach Julien Chaignot will count on the core of his team, which includes seasoned players such as FIBA Africa 3x3 champions Livio Ratianarivo and Arnol Solondrainy. 

 Livio Ratianarivo

"Making it back is been great. We have worked hard to be here and we want to qualify for the next round. A majority of the players were here in 2022 and we have made a few additions to strengthen our squad and that experience will come in handy." - Livio Ratianarivo.

"Winning the African 3x3 was great and that will also play a crucial role in how we line up here. We just have to find a way to incorporate the aspects of that to the 5-aside version of the game and make the best of two worlds." 

Khaman Maluach (NBA Academy Africa) 

NBA Academy Africa make their second appearance at the Elite 16 as they test themselves against seven teams out to clinch the three remaining BAL 2024 slots.

17-year-old Khaman Maluach made his debut with South Sudan men's team at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup

"We are ready to play and our win against Cape Town Tigers in Sunday's friendly was a good start. It helped us identify areas of concern ahead of the competition and we will ride on that as the competition gets underway." - Khaman Maluach.

"We look forward to the competition as it helps us gauge where we are individually and as a team. We play some of the best talents in the continent and that brings a new challenge for us. 

"We have had some players leave so the squad is relatively new. We, however, have four players, myself, Ulrich Chomche, Seifeldin Hendawy and Aginaldo Neto who featured in the Elite 16 last year and we bring some experience as we play this week."

Baraka Athumani (Pazi BBC) 

Pazi have already made history, becoming the first Tanzanian side to qualify for the Elite 16 and as they go to battle, their work is cut out in their quest for another milestone of reaching the Final 12. 

 Baraka Athumani

"This is a surreal moment, to be playing in the Elite 16 but the target is to qualify for the Final 12. We have scouted our opponents and they are good but we have also beefed up and we expect to be just as competitive." - Baraka Athumani. 

We play the hosts Cape Town Tigers, Dynamo who we played a tough match against in Group C and NBA Academy in the group stage and that is some tough opposition. We are, however, ready to fight." 

James Okello (City Oilers) 

Having played in the Final 12 (Nile Conference) in 2023, City Oilers received a bye to this year's Elite16 and are out to fight for another slot in the 2024 season. 

James Okello

"Being here is a big deal and the target is getting back to BAL and fighting for the playoffs. We have made some additions to the team that won the Ugandan championship and I feel we have the depth to go all the way." - James Okello.

"We didn't have to play the Road to BAL but we were not resting on our laurels so we are prepared. We are aware that teams have also bolstered their squads and the competition will be fierce so we have to be at our best in every match to qualify."

Lebesa Selepe (Cape Town Tigers) 

The side won the last edition of Elite 16 hosted in their backyard and has recruited heavily ahead of this year's edition, with eyes on making a successful run for the 2024 BAL title a reality. 

Lebesa Selepe

"We need to execute well. We have successfully done it twice but the competition gets tougher with each edition. Teams have recruited and we have to stay within our system so we can be on the same wavelength as the others. If we sway out of system it comes back to bite us." - Lebesa Selepe. 

"We have a different squad from the one that played in the last two editions, keeping only four from those outings. The new players are suited to our style of play.

"We have scouted the teams we play in our group and the cross pool and we expect tough competition. We have never beaten a team from Burundi, losing to New Star and Urunani so there is a chip on our shoulder and we want to get one up against Dynamo. Pazi are also a tough team with good players. 

"All in all, the pressure is on us to qualify. BAL is all we were designed for as Tigers therefore the expectation is to be in the final 12 then work our way to lifting the title.

"Losing to NBA Academy in the friendly match we played ahead of the competition was a rude awakening, one that we needed as some of our players are featuring in an African competition for the first time and now they have an idea of what to expect. When action tips off on Tuesday there will be no second chance."

FIBA