Nigeria's Kwara Falcons set big goals in debut of Basketball Africa League
ILORIN (Nigeria) - Nigerian outfit Kwara Falcons have set their sights on remaining the top team in the country after emerging as the surprise winner of 2022 Final 8 of the Nigeria Premier Basketball League.
The Ilorin-based team surprised themselves to the crown ahead of favorites Rivers Hoopers, Kano Pillars and Gombe Bulls. The other teams that were in the competition for the Playoffs were: Police Batons, Lagos Islanders, Nigeria Customs and Benue Braves.
Kwara Falcons Captain, Ajileye Seyi Gideon admits to FIBA.basket that winning the Nigeria league is every player's dream in the country.
"Winning the league was one of my goals, though it was not an easy task but with the caliber of players I ended the season with, it made it possible," he noted.
For the 20-year old point guard who had lived his life from childhood watching and admiring the team, playing and winning the league leaves him in cloud 9. "I feel great to be part of the history-making team because for Kwara Falcons this is the first time of reaching this height."
At 1.78m (5ft 10 in) Gideon, who has never represented Nigeria on the international scene, says he is looking eagerly to do so as Kwara Falcons will fly Nigeria's flag in the Basketball Africa League (BAL) Season 3. "I've not had a chance to represent my country, but it's time now with Kwara Falcons and I look forward to giving it my best.
"It's the highest level of basketball in Africa right now and this is the opportunity I've been waiting and working out so hard for. So, it's time for me to show the the world what I am made of. I know it's not going to be easy but we have a great young team that is focused. We're good to go," he emphasized.
Falcons head coach, Baba Jibril, a former national team player, notes that winning the league has come as a fulfilment for him because, he had in his playing days led Ebun Comets to several national league titles and winning his first league trophy has come as the icing on the cake.
"It took me two days to digest the fact that I had actually led Kwara Falcons to win the Nigeria Premier Basketball League title. I dare say, it's a great and wonderful feeling," he confessed.
The former Nigeria national team guard admits that it was not easy reaching the final and emerging champion after missing the title last season to Rivers Hoopers. He recalls that reaching the final a successive fashion was no guarantee that the title would come their way as the Nigeria Customs had shocked Rivers Hoopers in their Semi-Final game.
"At that point, I knew the league title could go either way and we had to put in an extra effort to emerge the new champion winning 78-53 against the Nigeria Customs."
However, Coach Jibril says he has returned from dreamland and is back to the stake reality of the tasks ahead of him. He notes that getting to the top is not easy but that it is even more difficult to remain there.
"Kwara Falcons win is not going to be a flash in the pan. As a team, we're aware of the challenges before us and have our minds made up to face them. One of such challenges is ensuring that we stay focused and play like a champion always. We're faced with the BAL which is an entirely different level of basketball," Jibril acknowledged.
Though, as a player, Jibril played in the Club Champions Cup for Ebun Comets, he admits the fact that the changes are enormous.
"The standards now in BAL are huge. Rivers Hoopers have been there and we appreciate the standards they have set. It's a challenge for us to double our efforts to make a good impression too. If Kwara Falcons succeed, it's success for Nigeria. We believe with the Kwara State government support, we will do our best to surpass the achievements of our predecessors, Rivers Hoopers."
He states further that the management is already working round the clock to fortify the team with players and technical support to make their inaugural BAL appearance one to remember.
The Hoopers failed to advance to knock-out stages of the inaugural season of the BAL in 2021.