APR basketball team has suffered mediocrity in the past decade and a half, failing to win a league silverware since 2009. Though they have often made it to the playoffs’ stage, they would eventually bow out from the semi-finals stage at the hands of their rivals– Rwanda Energy Group (REG) and Patriots. They have pretty much been their worst nightmare in years. Basketball: APR, REG set date for playoffs finals This year, the team made a big statement by sweeping Patriots in a 3-0 win run in the best of five semi-finals to set a finals’ date with REG with Game 1 due Friday, September 1 at BK Arena. Reaching the finals is not an achievement that came by chance for a team which had missed out on the podium for a fairly long time. As they now set their sights on the championship, Times Sport’s Damas Sikubwabo explores what the team got right to return to the big stage. Recruiting best players in the league At the beginning of the 2023 season, APR broke the bank and embarked on an ambitious recruitment mission as they added some of the best players in the domestic league to their roster. Forward Axel Mpoyo and point guard Jean-Jacques Wilson Nshobozwabyosenumukiza joined from REG, while Ntore Habimana also crossed to APR from the Patriots. The three players are some of the top players in the league. But the club added some fresh blood before the league entered the playoffs. American guard DeMarcus Holland, Prince Ibeh, a British-Rwandan center and Robeyns William all joined the team later on in the second half of the regular season. Such players have been important in not only balancing the roster but also making the team very competitive both in the regular season and the playoffs. Getting rid of underperforming players After the end of last season, APR said goodbye to about seven players namely point guard Yannick Byiringiro, shooting guard Enock Isezerano, small forward Fiston Irutingabo, power forwards Victor Mutabaruka and Olivier Kamilindi, as well as small forward Heritier Irumva. Their departure might not just have paved the way for new players, but also arguably made a statement that the team became performance-oriented and, therefore, any player who wanted to stay had to fight for it. This might have increased the competition at the club. Financial motivation Times Sport understands that the club worked on players’ pay rise to motivate them on and off the court. For instance, the lowest salary that a player currently earns is about Rwf 800,000; that is double, or so, of the lowest salary players would get before this season. This has arguably motivated players to stay focused on the game and fight hard to win something in return for their employers. Hiring an experienced coach The club, in May, hired Mazen Trakh, an American tactician who has worked with top clubs like Detroit Pistons in his home country. The 60-year-old replaced Kenyan Coach Cliff Owuor who now serves as his assistant coach. Trakh previously coached in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as an assistant coach at Oklahoma City Thunder and the Detroit Pistons between 2010 and 2014. At the Pistons, he worked under Maurice Cheeks, an American professional basketball coach and former player who serves as assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls. ALSO READ: APR coach Trakh salutes his players after ‘excellent’ display against Patriots Trakh was also part of the Golden State Warriors technical team during the 2015–16 season and, at the beginning of the 2016–17 season, he joined the Washington Wizards’ coaching staff. He also coached in Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and the American Basketball Association (ABA). Trakh helped Jordanian club Fastlink win the 2006 FIBA Asia Club Championship, becoming the first Jordanian team to ever win the championship. With a coach of such a big CV on the touchline, APR has no excuses to get nothing for its fans and club hierarchy but a championship.