The underdogs outclassed the favourite team to win the Sahara Conference, leaving the whole BAL in shock!
Written by Illythehost, Images by @TheBAL
It was thought that defending champs US Monastir had won the Sahara conference before they even set foot on the court… With a team stacked with experienced players for this season of BAL, no one imagined that they would be knocked out by Stade Malien, way before the playoffs! Such is the beauty of the game. And most importantly: we are going to have a new champion. So, let’s go through the teams which qualified to the next round to meet up with NILE Conference best four.
Topping the Conference is Stade Malien (@blancsdebamako) who started this season with a loss against Tunisian giants and BAL defending champions, US Monastir. Stade Malien ended the Conference with three wins and two losses, beating Abidjan Basket Club (A), Rwanda Energy Group (H) and Kwara Falcons Basketball Club (A). Beating the defending champions was going to be hard as they were THE team to beat this season again, as Zeus (Botswanan legendary rapper and entrepreneur) mentioned on Twitter. Competitive as US Monastir were, they didn’t make it to the playoffs spot which makes our basketball all the more interesting. Souleymane Berthe turned out to be Stade Malien’s star player, averaging 20.4 points per game, 3.8 assists per game and 2.2 steals. He was definitely leading by example and is a player to watch going forward.
Number two from the Conference is Association Sportive des Douanes, better known as AS Douanes (@asdouanesbasket), the Senegalese outfit which kick-started the season with back-to-back losses against Ivorian ABC and Rwanda Energy Group. But in game three they really surprised everyone by beating Stade Malien (H) 74-58, and then followed up with another comfortable win beating the Nigerian giants Kwara Falcons. They wrapped their fifth game up by knocking out the defending champions US Monastir. Their leading man, Chris Crawford, averaged 20 points per game, but overall, we can’t pick an individual player as being the best. It was most definitely a team effort. We must, however, congratulate Mouhamadou Diagne, who walked away with @WilsonBasktball Play of the Game for that massive dunk during AS Douanes’ game against US Monastir. We are looking forward to seeing more of this team during the playoffs.
Occupying third spot is Rwanda Energy Group, (@regbbcofficial), the most entertaining team throughout the tournament. It’s true when they say you can’t judge a team by looking at their players on paper. We didn’t even see this team making it to the last four (playoffs), but their teamwork and resilience surprised many basketball fans across the continent. They actually started off with three straight wins, and their last game was a close call, losing 79-84 to the team which, on paper, we thought would win the conference. But, guess what… You don’t win a basketball match on paper but on the court. Cleveland Joseph Thomas Jr. and Adonis Filer averaged 16 points per game and were the two with the most assists. We are interested to see how different they will be during the playoffs with those sold-out arenas and crowds cheering them.
The fourth and final club to qualify for the playoffs is from Ivory Coast, and the only team led by a lady: ABC Fighters (@ABC_Fighters). Head coach Liz Mills has only been with the Ivorian team since December 2022, but watching them play showed us a different ball game. Amadou Abdoulaye Harouna, the team’s leadsman carried this team until their last game when they lost to Stade Malien (H), but that didn’t affect their standing in the conference.
With the first four spots now occupied, we wait for the Nile Conference four to add up the teams, then we head to the playoffs to see who emerges as the best of the best from both conferences…
The question remains; who’s going to win BAL 2023?
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