Egypt’s Zamalek crowned champions of inaugural Basketball Africa League playoffs

By James Tasamba

KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) – Egypt’s Zamalek were crowned the champions of the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) playoffs after beating Tunisia’s US Monastir 76-63 late Sunday in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

Zamalek went into the half-time break leading 44-42.

The Egyptian giants had reached the finals after outplaying the Angolan side in the semis.

Over the course of the tournament, Zamalek and US Monastir had set themselves apart after beating every single team they faced.

The two teams had productive benches that could impact the game at any given moment as they had done over and over throughout the tournament.

To reach the final, Zamalek outplayed two-time African champions Petro de Luanda of Angola 89-71 in Saturday’s first semi-final.

Afterwards, US Monastir beat Rwandan champions Patriots BBC 87-46.

Earlier on Sunday, Petro de Luanda finished third after beating Patriots 97-68 on the final day of the games also watched by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, BAL founder Amadou Gallo Fall and a host of guests from the US National Basketball Association (NBA), including legend Dikembe Mutombo.

Egypt’s star player Walter Hodge won the Hakeem Olajuwon MVP Award, becoming the first most valuable player of the BAL.

Hodge played a key role in Zamalek's comeback as the end of the second quarter drew closer, after scoring 12 points.

Ivorian star Mouloukou Souleyman Diabate racked up 14 points with some 3-pointers which gave Zamalek more confidence.

Sunday’s final between Zamalek and US Monastir not only crowned the first-ever BAL champion but also marked a new chapter in the history of African basketball.

One of the main goals of the BAL is to encourage professional basketball across Africa and Kigali was chosen as the starting point.

Eighteen-year old Mohab Yasser Abdallatif was the center of focus after displaying a spectacular performance for the Egyptian team, scoring 14 points and several important rebounds needed to push his team ahead.

Nigerian star Michael Fakuade scored 15 points while Chinemelu Elonu scored 11 points to deny US Monastir a chance to come back in the third and fourth quarters.

US Monastir’s Makrem Ben Romdhane and Marcus Crawford did their best, scoring 14 points apiece, while Wael Arakji and Omar Abada scored 13 points each but fell short of inspiring the Tunisian side, which seemed already disoriented throughout the second half.

As the game tipped into the 4th quarter, Zamalek’s players demonstrated more confidence, cornering US Monastir to commit errors.

The inaugural games, which kicked off on May 16, featured 12 teams from across the continent.

The first professional league of its kind to be run by America’s NBA outside North America ran under strict COVID-19 protocols.

The teams included champions from the national leagues in Nigeria, Angola, Morocco, Egypt, Senegal and Tunisia.

Others were from Algeria, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique and Rwanda .

The BAL is a result of a partnership between the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and the NBA.

It is a new professional league featuring top teams from across Africa.