BAL winners US Monastir relish the opportunity to be the underdog
MIES (Switzerland) - US Monastir have been the hottest team in Tunisia for years now, winning four straight Tunisian championships, and three Tunisian Cups in a row. The crowning moment came in 2022, when they won the Basketball Africa League, the strongest continental championship in Africa.
Yet with all those accolades, US Monastir believe their best chance of success in the FIBA Intercontinental Cup lies on them being the competition's best-kept secret.
"Let them think that we are an outsider," team captain Radhouane Slimane said.
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"It is a little bit true, but it's a big plus for us, because we're gonna come from behind and surprise all the teams. Even Lenovo Tenerife, two-time champs (of the FIBA Intercontinental Cup), in their home arena. We're gonna surprise with the level of our basketball."
The 42-year-old legend is not wrong about his team being something of an unknown quantity for the hosts. Marcelinho Huertas admitted it himself that of all the participants in the FIBA Intercontinental Cup, the hosts know the least about the BAL winners.
"We know that it's very difficult to scout us, and right now Tenerife don't have any idea about us. Maybe they know four or five players from the last season of BAL, but now the team changed like 70 percent," Slimane explained.
Even with all the changes, US Monastir have a plan for the Semi-Final, set to be played in San Cristobal de La Laguna on February 10.
"We're gonna use that effect of surprise. They don't know a lot about us, and on the other side, we know everything about (Tenerife). We watch them every week in the ACB and the BCL, we know each player," the Tunisian international explained.
"They are third in the ACB, winners of the Basketball Champions League. We know who we are going to face, but we have no fear.
But who are Tenerife going to face? What kind of basketball should we expect from the squad that lifted the BAL trophy in Kigali, Rwanda back in May 2022?
"Tunisian players will deliver what we usually show in the Olympics, the FIBA Basketball World Cup and the FIBA AfroBasket," Slimane said.
"But we have a lot of European influence and attitude, and we do play a European style of basketball, to a good level, with good IQ. We are strong, we trust ourselves, we have a lot of confidence, and we're going to go there to play a 50-50 game against Tenerife."
This will be only the second time in history that an African team takes place in the FIBA Intercontinental Cup. With the growth of basketball in the continent, especially through projects driven by FIBA and the NBA, Slimane feels like it's only a matter of time for a club from Africa to climb on the top step of the podium.
Zamalek were fourth in 2022, US Monastir will try to improve on that in this edition. International success should help the growth of the BAL, the growth of the BAL would then help the clubs achieve international greatness. It works both ways.
🥇 Introducing the 2022 All-BAL First Team:— Basketball Africa League (@theBAL) June 15, 2022
•Terrell Stoglin, AS Salé
•Édgar Sosa, Zamalek
•Carlos Morais, Petro de Luanda
•Radhouane Slimane, US Monastir
•Ater Majok, US Monastir pic.twitter.com/31PWgQ7cKz
"Playing the BAL was a great thing. Each player got a chance to show themselves to the world, to play at a high level and possibly go to the NBA or a high level in Europe. Year after year, BAL showed that it's going to be a big league, and it's very important for the continent, because Africa has a lot of talent and can bring dominant players in the NBA or Europe," he said.
Slimane was always dominant, no matter where he played, but his career includes only one season at a European club, Portuguese side Barreirense back in 2005-06. He made a name for himself with the Tunisian national team, similar to what Marcelinho Huertas did with Brazil.
Marcelinho is 39, Radhouane 42. Could this be their last encounter, ever?
"I played Marcelinho four or five times. We know each other, he's one of the best guards in the history of European basketball, I hope he's doing well. How many battles are there left for us? It's true I'm 42, but who knows, maybe we qualify to the World Cup this summer, and draw Brazil."
But first, the Semi-Final on Friday. Let's call it the Penultimate Dance, just in case they cross paths in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.