Egyptian side Zamalek were crowned winners of the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) after they defeated Tunisia’s US Monastir 76-63 in the final game on Sunday. The match took place at the Kigali Arena in Rwanda, Nation reported.
The competition, which is under the auspices of FIBA and the NBA, is the latter’s first collaboration to operate a league outside of North America. And the inaugural season saw former Florida Gators star Walter Hodge emerge as the Hakeem Olajuwon BAL Most Valuable Player after averaging 15.5 points, 5.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game.
“It’s a big honor for me. It’s not mine, everybody on the team played a role. I am very happy,” Hodge said about winning the MVP award. “I am very happy. Everybody stepped up today. It makes the difference when everyone works hard.”
Hodge’s teammate, Anas Osama Mahmoud, was also awarded the Dikembe Mutombo BAL Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 6.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. The Egyptian side finished the season undefeated after six games.
Following the match, the team’s head coach, Agustin Julbe Bosch, reflected on how they got off to a slow start after the season commenced and how they managed to improve game after game.
“That’s the fact, the team grew slow through the games and the last two games showed us that we can be patient and wait for the moment, cut down on our mistakes and that’s how we did it,” Bosch said.
Reflecting on their defeat, US Monastir head coach Mounir Ben Slimane told Nation he was taking responsibility for it. “It is really disappointing. I take responsibility for this,” he said. “We hope next year to be the BAL Champions. We did not score and did not take chances. The will was there to do good but the pressure was there, I take responsibility for every turnover, miss and everything that did not go right.”
The coach also called on the league’s organizers to explore the possibility of playing the finals in a series fixture despite saying it wasn’t an excuse for their loss. “I hope the organizers will look at that. But I will not put excuse on that. Our focus is on the next finals. The result is disappointing but the journey was very positive.”
Meanwhile, Angola’s Petro de Luanda clinched the third position following their 97-68 victory over Rwanda’s Patriots BBC the same day.