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Kenyan club, KPA, unlikely saviour, provider of ticket to huge NBA project in Africa

The top six teams from the final qualifying rounds (in Kigali and Cameroon) will then join champions from

2020 Basketball Africa League:

(Champions of (Already in):

1 Angola –  Petro de Luanda

2 Egypt – Zamalek

3 Morocco –  Association Sportive Salé

4 Nigeria – Champions of the 2019 Nigerian Premier League

5 Senegal –  AS Douanes

6 Tunisia – US Monastir

To be joined by:

(3 of below, after 8-team elimination at Kigali Arena, RWANDA, November 26 to December 1)

(East Division):

1 Gp ‘D’: Patriots – (Rwanda)

2 Gp ‘D’: City Oilers – (Uganda)

3 Gp ‘D’ (*wild card eligible): JKT Mugulami – (Tanzania)

4 Gp ‘E’: Ferroviário de Maputo – (Mozambique)

5 Gp ‘E’: UNZA Pacers – (Zambia)

6 Gp ‘E’ (*wild card eligible): Merceneries – (Zimbabwe)

7 Gp ‘F’:  Kenya Ports Authority – (Kenya)

8 Gp ‘F’: Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club – (Madagascar)

9 Gp ‘F’ (*wild card eligible): Cobra – (South Sudan)

(Draw: two groups of FOUR. Top two in each group go to semi-finals. TWO winners of semi-finals and winner of the losers’ play-off earn slots in the (FIBA/NBA-run) 2020 BAL)

 (Western Division):

(3 of below, after 8-team elimination at Yaounde, Cameroon – December 17-22)

1  Gp ‘A’: AS Police – (Mali)

2 Gp ‘A’: Groupement Sportif des Pétroliers – (Algeria)

3 Gp ‘A’ (*wild card eligible): Al Naser – (Libya)

4  Gp ‘B’: Abidjan Basket Club – (Cote d’Ivoire)

5 Gp ‘B’: Nigelec Basket Club – (Niger)

6 Gp ‘C’:  Forces Armées et Police – (Cameroon)

7 Gp ‘C’: Manga – (Gabon)

8 Gp ‘C’ (*wild card eligible): ASB Mazembe – (DR Congo –Kinshasa)

(Draw: two groups of FOUR. Top two in each group go to semi-finals. TWO winners of semi-finals and winner of the losers’ play-off earn slots in the (FIBA/NBA-run) 2020 BAL)

PAY some serious basketball attention to what has just gone on in Madagascar; where Kenyan club, Kenya Ports Authority [KPA] was its group’s preliminary contest winner and are through to the next phase — November 26 to December 1 2019, in Kigali, Rwanda) — of qualification to an exciting venture.

Africa is about to have one of the most exciting annual season sporting competition ever. The rich, supremely successful American National Basketball Association (NBA) will, in March 2020, be launching a professional Basketball Africa League (BAL) in collaboration with FIBA (Federation of International Basketball Associations).

Top: Kenya Ports Authority’s, 5 Ariel Okall KORANGA, 4 Anthony KINDONG’O and 12 Valentine Onyango NYAKINDA celebrate victory on ‘Road to BAL 2020’ in Antananarivo

Top: Kenya Ports Authority’s, 5 Ariel Okall KORANGA, 4 Anthony KINDONG’O and 12 Valentine Onyango NYAKINDA celebrate victory on ‘Road to BAL 2020’ in Antananarivo. Above: Valentine Nyakinda goes for lay-up points

The BAL to feature 12 teams throughout Africa will be funded by the NBA and FIBA and already has premium sponsors Nike and the Jordan Brand being the exclusive outfitters.

Hopeful heads throughout Africa started spinning when the NBA project was mooted quite a while back. This dreamy promise for budding African players was in the minds of all and the question was: “Who will be admitted to the house of the chosen few?”

As head coach, Sammy Kiki, former national schools' champion with Mombasa Baptist High School, ex-Kenya point guard leads the country’s and KPA’s hopes to play in the NBA (National Basketball Association) ambitious project in Africa

As head coach, Sammy Kiki, former national schools’ champion with Mombasa Baptist High School and ex-Kenya point guard leads the country’s and KPA’s hopes to play in the NBA (National Basketball Association ) ambitious project in Africa

No less than President of United States Barack Obama showed support for the African project as NBA officials, including Commissioner Adam Silver, swung into action seeking suitable centres and partners in the continent to launch their operations.

Needless to say, FIBA and NBA were going to settle for the ‘best’ potential partners; considering health working relations, basketball talent and suitable infrastructure. They were not short of choice as many in Africa went the extra mile to get the FIBA/NBA approval.

Kenya Basketball Federation head Paul Otula, above, and below with President Uhuru Kenyatta during a national basketball team visit to State House, Nairobi. Kenya dismally failed to leverage on its huge potential to be a center of forthcoming Basketball Africa League driven by American giant sporting organisation NBA (National Basketball Association)

Kenya Basketball Federation head Paul Otula, above, and below with President Uhuru Kenyatta during a national basketball team visit to State House, Nairobi. Kenya dismally failed to leverage on its huge potential to be a centre of forthcoming Basketball Africa League driven by American giant sporting organisation NBA (National Basketball Association)

Kenya Basketball Federation head Paul Otula, above, and below with President Uhuru Kenyatta during a national basketball team visit to State House, Nairobi. Kenya dismally failed to leverage on its huge potential to be a center of forthcoming Basketball Africa League driven by American giant sporting organisation NBA (National Basketball Association)

Whirlwind tours to the continent saw basketball luminaries engage African Governments, basketball federations and business and finally earmarking six centres where the BAL pro basketball regular season will be staged. Kenya was not among them. And that, despite her engagement with President Obama [with his ‘Sauti Kuu’ community project in Kogelo, Siaya, the home of his father]; friendship with Masai Ujiri, President of current NBA champions Toronto Raptors whose mother is Kenyan; visits by and launch of youth development projects [Junior NBA] by NBA-Africa vice President Amadou Gallo Fall, etc.

Kenyan promises that they would be for the new venture; by putting up approved infrastructure, restructure its domestic competition and raise competitive teams, in the end, proved ‘hot air’ as the project turned to engage more serious Africans and finally made concrete decisions.

President of the United States Barrack Obama makes a shot at a facility in Kogelo, Siaya County, his father’s birth place. Below, POTUS Obama with children in Kogelo where he initiated a youth development and sports programme ‘Sauti Kuu’

Above, President of the United States Barrack Obama makes a shot at a facility in Kogelo, Siaya County, his father’s birthplace. Below, POTUS Obama with children in Kogelo where he initiated a youth development and sports programme ‘Sauti Kuu’

Despite its relatively good standing in Africa, including in many ways such as geographical, climate, economy and social establishment, Kenyan leaders’ purported enthusiasm proved to be lip service as Nairobi, whose basketball venue in Kasarani suburbs Ujiri described as “an eyesore” was beaten in the contest and now the BAL regular season cities will be:

The BAL Regular season cities:

1 Cairo – (Egypt

2 Dakar – (Senegal)

3 Lagos – (Nigeria)

4 Luanda – (Angola)

5 Rabat – (Morocco)

6 (either) Monastir

or Tunis (Tunisia)

There were more than enough candidates lining up to do business with FIBA/NBA and NBA commissioner Silver had to comment: “There’s been a fantastic reception. We now have seven great host cities where we will play and our first partnership with a world-class outfitter. We thank our first partners NIKE and Jordan Brand for supporting us on this journey and ensuring our teams have the best uniforms and on-court products.”

But the biggest commitment was that of Rwanda where President Kagame literally took it upon himself to make his country the highlight of the FIBA/NBA project. Including putting up a brand new, top-class basketball forum – the Kigali Arena – in his country’s capital, Kagame’s Rwanda impressed the project managers as a most suitable country to do business.

Masai Ujiri (left) Nigerian-born President of NBA Champions Toronto Raptors during a television interview show “Jeff Koinange (right) Live”. Ujiri said it was a shame that Kenya lacked a plan and commitment top flight professional basketball

Masai Ujiri (left) Nigerian-born President of NBA Champions Toronto Raptors during a television interview show “Jeff Koinange (right) Live”. Ujiri said it was a shame that Kenya lacked a plan and commitment top-flight professional basketball

The icing on the cake will be when Kigali Arena stages the BAL Final Four and BAL Final in Kigali, in late 2020. Don’t forget the form then on, the BAL will be an annual competition out there to be judged how successful it will be, matching or surpassing others in the continent such as the CAF (African Football Confederation) club championships, namely the Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup.

In the BAL regular season, the 12 teams will be divided into two six-team conferences, each conference playing games in three of the six host cities. Each team will play five regular-season games, a total of 30, with the top three clubs in each conference advancing to the play-offs.

The “Super Six” will play a round-robin format to determine the BAL Final Four that advance to Kigali in late spring 2020 for the single-game elimination semi-finals and final.

The NBA and FIBA also plan to dedicate financial support and resources toward the continued development of Africa’s basketball ecosystem, including training for players, coaches and referees, and infrastructure investment.

A youth camp in Africa, on the Junior NBA Project supported by the National Basketball Association

A youth camp in Africa, on the Junior NBA Project supported by the National Basketball Association

Kenya’s “miss” on the FIBA/NBA project had already been seen “as coming”, her lukewarm — and lack of — efforts, from relevant authorities in Government and Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) being attributed.

The KBF structures are appalling and the country’s massive talent has not been able to produce a meaningful domestic competition despite the many years Kenyans have played the game and who in the 1970s and 80s had some of the most promising clubs in the continent. But Kenya stayed still as African club basketball developed in all spheres including in management, structures and facilities.

In the new 12-team BAL, FIBA/NBA reserved six automatic places for:

2020 Basketball Africa League:

(Champions of – already in):

1 Angola –  Petro de Luanda

2 Egypt Zamalek

3 Morocco –  Association Sportive Salé

4 Nigeria – Champions of the 2019 Nigerian Premier League

5 Senegal – AS Douanes

6 Tunisia – US Monastir

All direct entries, except Angola of Southern Africa, are North and West African nations. With many attractive attributes. Kenya, and for wider representation, would have felt justified to lobby for special consideration, its poor domestic game foundation notwithstanding. But Kenyans showed poor negotiation strategy skills, the KBF, for instance, seeing forages into the country and engagement with non-KBF people by Obama, Gallo Fall, Ujiri [with ‘Giants of Africa’ programme whose mission is to use basketball as a means to educate and enrich the lives of African youth]and NBA-Africa’s ‘Basketball Without Borders’, as interference and undermining of KBF authority.

The announcement about the NBA and FIBA’s launch of the BAL, which would mark the NBA’s first collaboration to operate a league outside of North America, was made at the NBA All-Star 2019 Africa Luncheon in Charlotte, North Carolina on February 16, 2019. No Kenyan, KBF or Government, was invited while many from Africa were.

NBA-Africa Vice President Amadou Gallo Fall (right) with the then United States ambassador to Kenya, Bob Godec, launching a ‘Junior NBA’ programme in Kenya in 2016

NBA-Africa Vice President and President Basketball Africa League [BAL] Amadou Gallo Fall (right) with the then United States ambassador to Kenya, Bob Godec, launching a ‘Junior NBA’ programme in Kenya in 2016

When the BAL jumps off in March next year, the game of basketball will never be the same in Africa. Standards may just skyrocket that those left out of the new competition will never catch up. It is a case of “now or never” for the basketball of some countries such as Kenya.

It is not for nothing that America is looking to do basketball business in the continent. As of July, more than 80 current and former NBA players are from Africa or have ties to the continent. The league has held 16 Basketball Without Borders events in Africa. The NBA has held exhibition games in Africa in three of the previous four years [Sources say on of President Kagame’s dreams is to have an NBA regular season fixture staged at the Kigali arena, even on an annual basis – imagine, in Kigali, Los Angeles Lakers, with Lebron James v Philadelphia 76ers with Joel Embiid!).

The NBA (National Basketball Association) commissioner Adam Silver

The NBA (National Basketball Association) commissioner Adam Silver

But all is not lost for Kenya. Even if, as a venue, Nairobi has completely missed the boat, opportunity falling to Kigali of their ‘humble’ neighbours Rwanda, Kenyans may ‘gate-crush’ the party that NBA are throwing. And these hopes rest on the shoulders of the KPA outfit that has just finished the first leg of a tough drive on the “Road to BAL 2020”.

A lot of people weren’t aware that coach Sammy Kiki was not taking out his players to an ordinary tournament. His men won all Group ‘F’ matches, topping the pool to qualify for the next round in Kigali. When the draw is made for the top two teams of each group and two wild cards from Antananarivo the top three in the Kigali tournament will qualify for BAL 2020. It is that simple for Kenyans to get IN.

That is right, for all the KBF/Government lobbying and diplomatic failure to lure in an automatic inclusion of Nairobi on the BAL circuit, the KPA boys may just provide Kenya with space to put a foot in. And the lives of many Kenyan basketballers would never be the same.

Meanwhile, the FIBA/NBA project in Africa is a real turning point to Africa’s professional sport and FIBA Africa executive director Alphonse Bile has said.

The Kigali Arena in Rwanda where the inaugurl Basketball Africa League Final Four and Final matches will be played in 2020

The Kigali Arena in Rwanda where the inaugural Basketball Africa League Final Four and Final matches will be played in 2020

The Kigali Arena in Rwanda where the inaugurl Basketball Africa League Final Four and Final matches will be played in 2020

“We’re excited to work closely with the NBA to develop and put in a place a professional league like none that we have ever seen in our region before. Through the Basketball Africa League, we can provide the many great clubs and players with the best possible environment to compete for the highest stakes.”

Bile said this during the announcement of Kigali staging the 2020 finals by BAL President, Amadou Gallo Fall, during a reception at the Musée des Civilisations Noires in Dakar, Senegal, in the presence of FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis, NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver and his deputy Mark Tatum.

The NBA and FIBA also plan to dedicate financial support and resources toward the continued development of Africa’s basketball ecosystem, including training for players, coaches and referees, and infrastructure investment.

Meanwhile, this is KPA’s ‘Road to BAL 2020’ results:

Eastern Division:

Group ‘F’:

KPA 98-84 Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club – (Madagascar)

Beau Vallon Heat (Seychelles) 54-131 KPA

KPA 81- 78 Cobra (South Sudan)

Usoni (Comoros) 74-121 KPA

Kenya Ports Authority

(ROSTER):

4 Anthony KINDONG’O, 30 (Kenya) 06-02-1989

5 Ariel Okall KORANGA, 29 (Kenya) 18-02-1990

6 Dickson ODHIAMBO, 28 (Kenya) 28-07-1991

7 Kennedy WACHIRA, 24 (Kenya) 08-07-1995

8 Michael KAZUNGUZIBWA, 26 (Congo-Kinshasa) 27-12-1992

9 Victor ODENDO, 39 (Kenya) 24-11-1979

10 Keegan Nyabera OYUGI, 25 (Kenya) 03-08-1994

11 Evans Kipchirchir LETING, 33 (Kenya) 30-07-1986

12 Valentine Onyango NYAKINDA, 27 (Kenya) 16-03-1992

13 Paul Ekiru ERENG’, 23 (Kenya) 10-07-1996

14 Job AYODI, 29 (Kenya) 16-05-91

Coach: Cliff OWUOR (Kenya)

Head coach: Sammy KIKI (Kenya)

-Additional reporting by FIBA/NBA

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