Former NBA goalie Ben Uzoh expects BAL to have talented players – the Undefeated
While the Basketball Africa League might be expected to be low on talent in its inaugural season, former NBA goalkeeper Ben Uzoh believes a surprise is on the way.
“It will be pretty good. The signatures that I have read and heard from across the country and across the continent have been pretty strong, ”Uzoh told The Undefeated recently.
The Basketball Africa League (BAL) is scheduled to debut on May 16 in Kigali, Rwanda. Led by BAL president Amadou Fall, the league, which includes 12 teams from across Africa, will play 26 matches, all at Kigali Arena. BAL was originally scheduled to debut on March 13, 2020, from Dakar, Senegal, but has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. BAL, which is a partnership between the NBA and the International Basketball Federation, includes teams from clubs from African countries such as Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia. This is the first NBA collaboration to operate a league outside of North America.
A big question as the league kicks off is whether there are any former NBA players ready to play. Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers Uzoh is expected to have the most NBA experience of all expected players. The former University of Tulsa star played 60 NBA games with the New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors while playing professionally in the G League and in Russia, Belgium, Mexico, France and Nigeria.
Uzoh is “very excited” to play in BAL and hopes to be involved on and off the short to long term.
“When it was announced a few years ago, I felt like it would be an opportunity to develop the game in Africa. I was like, ‘Well that’s obvious to me,’ ”Uzoh told The Undefeated. “Obviously I wanted to be a part of it, be it a player or a coach and an executive at some point in the future, and here we are today.
“There is the opportunity to be a pioneer for African youth on a stage with our play. There will be university and European players who want to come here and play.
Benjamin Chukwukelo Uzoh was born in Houston on March 18, 1988. His parents are from Nigeria. The 6-foot-3 guard grew up in a Nigerian household. Uzoh has been playing for the Nigerian national team since 2013 and was a member of the Rio 2016 Olympics team. He also played for the Lagos Islanders of the African Basketball League in 2015 and hopes to be part of the team. from Nigeria at the Tokyo Olympics.
Fall said Uzoh’s signing with the Rivers Hoopers was a “big sign” for what to expect from the league going forward.
“He’s a real winner,” Fall told The Undefeated. “He showed a lot of commitment to the Nigerian basketball team. I was sure he would be one of the first to sign with one of our teams. He loves to play for his country. I have a lot of respect for him because of his commitment to giving back and he’s a good player. He was one of the first African guards to play in the NBA. His signature confirms our belief that we will attract elite talent from the African diaspora and around the world while developing and retaining elite talent in Africa. “
Uzoh won’t be alone among BAL players who have NBA ties. Rivers Hoopers center Chris Daniels played five preseason games for the Brooklyn Nets in 2015 and also played in the G League. Rivers Hoopers forward Taren Sullivan; Rwanda Patriots forward Brandon Costner; The Mozambican guards of Ferroviario de Maputo Myck Kabongo, a former McDonald’s All American, Demarcus Holland, and the Tunisian American center of Monastir Ater Majok have played in the G League. There are also several players who have played for NBA Summer League teams and collegially at the Division I level.
“You have guys who have been playing for many years, who are experienced players and who have played at a high level in Division I. I can’t wait to be there. It’s just an opportunity to keep going, not just to compete, but just to give back to the game. The competition is going to be pretty good, ”said Uzoh.
BAL players must quarantine themselves for four days and pass COVID-19 tests before entering the league bubble. BAL’s health and safety protocols come from advice from public health officials and medical experts from the World Health Organization and the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NBA Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Leroy Sims and NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum will be in attendance.
The BAL competition begins with a group stage of 18 matches with the 12 teams divided into three groups of four. In the group stage, each team will face the other three teams in its group once. The top eight teams from the group stage will advance to the playoffs, which will be knockout in all three rounds. the first BAL finals will take place on May 30.
Uzoh says that while football is king in Africa, he believes basketball is gaining popularity on the continent thanks to several NBA stars of African descent, including Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, center. Philadelphia 76ers Joel Embiid and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. Uzoh is also convinced that the BAL will inspire more African children to play basketball.
“It’s growing pretty quickly. It has just been untapped. It’s probably been untapped for too long, ”Uzoh said.