As fans watched APR put up amazing performances that saw the team win the Rwanda Basketball League (RBL) for the first time in 14 years, only a few knew what championship mastermind Mazen Trakh was cooking behind the curtains. From an intentional off-the-court routine to an intricate on-the-court plan, APR put a lot into their stunning comeback to glory. Speaking exclusively to Times Sport, Mazen Trakh, the American tactician who steered the army team to the championship, expounded on what was done right from the day he arrived in the country in May. I sat down with Eric (Kalisa Salongo, APR's Secretary General) and the president (of the club), and they wanted a plan. A plan to give us the opportunity to win the championship. We sat for two and a half hours,” he recalls. During the meeting, Trakh pointed out a number of things that would beef up the team’s readiness to not only compete on the domestic stage but also the continental scene. He proposed the need for players to live together in the same vicinity and always see each other to build the chemistry. The team’s administration managed to provide this by getting all players and club staff into apartments in the Acacus compound, a modern residential facility in Kicukiro. “Now we have all our players living here in this facility,” Trakh says. “They see each other every day. We're able to create more of a bond between us. They will see me, not in the gym. They'll see me out walking and say, ‘Hey coach, how are you doing?’” Bringing players together at the same facility helped the club monitor their diet as well as their physical fitness, especially in terms of recovery after going through the drills. “They sit together, they eat together – breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Trakh notes. At the facility, the players were also able to have ice baths daily at the facility to help their bodies recover after every practice. In addition, he said, they have medical checks for any kind of bruises or injuries that they may have incurred. On the court, Trakh did a lot to get the players to learn some key tactics that would improve the team. One of the aspects that the American paid attention to was improving the defence. From there, he used the first games of the league against weaker teams to make sure that his players “learn the language of the defense” that he wanted to use. He would tell the players that just winning games was not the goal but using them to learn how to defend the ball first. “I call it ‘10 eyes on the basketball.’ As the season went on, we got better defensively,” he says. Trakh knew that he had some good offensive talents like Axel Mpoyo, Ntore Habimana, Wilson Nshobozwabyosenumukiza and William Robeyns, but he still needed to make sure that they were just as good in defense. After the addition of American guard DeMarcus Holland, the team continued to work together not only to improve the defense but also their on-the-court chemistry. “We were starting to gel, we had a defense that was willing to play hard. We had an offense that was willing to share the ball, sacrificing scoring 25 points per game to score 18,” he notes. The defensive work paid dividends, as for instance, APR only conceded 174 points in the playoffs semi-finals series, and later on in the finals, the most they conceded in a game was not more than 78 points. “I honestly told the team, I thought this was one of the best defensive teams in all of Africa, and when we didn't shoot the ball well – because we struggled shooting the ball in some games – but we were still able to win by 8 to 10 points (in the semi-finals),” he says. Trakh hailed the fans for playing a key role in pushing the team to victory, especially in some games where APR was trailing. Now the team is gearing up for the Basketball Africa League (BAL) that will take place from March 2024. Trakh is already busy working with his staff to put together the most competitive team they can, aiming to represent Rwanda in the most competitive way possible.