2009 was a very busy year for Rwandan basketball with the national men and women teams having to scale their heights against Africa’s best. Julius Mbaraga looks at how the game fared throughout the year.
2009 Afrobasket –Libya
The men’s side under the tutelage of Vaceslav Kavedzija traveled north to compete in the Afrobasket men’s basketball championship where the top three would qualify for the 2010 Fiba-World Championship in Turkey.
At the end of the grueling ten-day competition, it was Angola, Ivory Coast and Tunisia, who claimed these slots. Angola, like many had anticipated, won a record tenth title to further assert their status as Africa’s basketball kings.
The Southern African giants led by tournament MVP Joaquim Gomes beat Ivory Coast 82-72 in the final to race to their sixth title on the trot. It was sheer brilliancy by the Angolans since they also finished their nine-game campaign without losing a game.
Tunisia also snatched that final World Championship slot after ousting Cameroon 83-68 in the third place playoff.
Rwanda was not in that class but going by Vaceslav’s remarks, the team’s display at the championship is a good foundation for the 2011event which is likely to be hosted by Morocco.
Rwanda finished 9th in the sixteen-nation tournament, climbing three slots from their 2007 performance in Angola.
The team flew to Libya with a mission of getting to the quarter-finals and although they came one position short of their target, resounding wins over Africa’s top nations like Cameroon, Senegal, Egypt and Cape Verde proved how lethal Vaceslav’s team can be.
At the group stage, Rwanda picked one win and lost two games. The win came against 2007 second runners up Cape Verde (77-67) while defeats were against the North African oppositions-Morocco (84-85) and Tunisia (57-74).
In all fairness, Rwanda deserved to win the Morocco game but switched off a little too early. The team regrouped fast to see off Cape Verde but were soon criticized for failing to build on that win after going down to Tunisia.
The team progressed into the round of eight where they were drawn with heavy weights Senegal, Central African Republic (CAR) and Cameroon.
At this point, even hanging onto their 2007 position (12th) seemed very unlikely. Only Vaceslav knew what his guns were capable of.
Rwanda’s 72-59 triumph over Senegal dominated headlines in Tripoli. It was the first major upset of the tournament.
But similar to the group stage, the team buckled under the spot light after going down 64-85 against CAR.
The team again came under criticism for failing to build on their wins. In fact, many predicted that Rwanda would be easily-beaten by Cameroon, but to their dismay, it was upset number two for the East African team.
The burgeoning partnership between Kenny Gasana and Robert Thomson tore Cameroon apart for the 82-69 win to signal their intentions at the event. At this point, Rwanda had turned themselves into giant destroyers.
Despite these wins, Rwanda still missed out on the quarter-finals by just a margin of an inch but made the most of their classification games by beating hosts Libya (80-77) and long-time Zone 5 nemesis Egypt (78-75).
Putting these results together, it was clear that the team started playing well towards the end of the tournament partly because they had finally forged a combination.
The players hardly played together before the tournament and used the opening games trying to gel as a team.
In his post-tournament remarks, Kenny Gasana, Rwanda’s top scorer and fifth at the tournament with an average of18.3pts per game reckoned that with good and adequate preparations, the team has the potential to make the semi-finals and probably snick into the top three.
The camaraderie and willingness in the team has convinced Vaceslav that Rwanda will be a force to reckon with come 2011.
“All the team needs is good and early preparations to challenge the usual big guns in the competition. But on a whole, I’m proud of the lads. They played well,” the Croat said.
With only one sound friendly game (against Turkey) before the 2009 Afrobasket event, Rwanda’s performance in Libya was a commendable effort.
Afrobasket Women Championship -Madagascar
Unfortunately, the national women team failed to live up to their ability after finishing 9th in the 2009 Afrobasket Women championship which was held in Madagascar.
Rwanda had a rough welcome in the Afrobasket event after losing all their group games. However, the team saved their face with two classification victories over South Africa and Tunisia to finish 9th in the 12-nation tournament.
Senegal’s 72-57 victory over Mali handed the country a record tenth title and further asserted them as Africa’s basketball queens.
Senegal and Mali will now represent Africa in next year’s Fiba World Championships in Czech Republic.
Fiba-Africa Club Championship - Rwanda
But the highlight of the 2009 season was APR hosting Africa’s prestigious Club Championship (2009 Fiba-Africa Club Championship).
APR, who were making a third appearance, made the most of home advantage as they took third place after outscoring DRC’s Mazembe 92-80 in the third-place play-off.
It was a huge step forward for Cliff Owuor’s side who finished 9th on their debut in 2007 (Angola) and 8th last year (Tunisia).
“It is a huge step forward and we are now looking to giving the Angolan boys a big fight next year,” the former Kenyan international said.
The 10-day event, which attracted ten clubs from the continent, saw Angola’s Primeiro de Agosto retain the title after dislodging their Luanda arch-rivals Petro Atletico in the final.
Primeiro, inspired by last year’s Most Valuable Player [MVP] Joaquim Gomes retained the title they won last year in Tunisia with a convincing 88-64 win over Petro in the final played at Amahoro Indoor Stadium.
Primeiro won all four quarters; 19-16, 22-17, 21-20 and 26-11 to lift their fifth African title.
Primeiro’s Carlos Almeida led the floor with a game high 24 points, Armando Costa recorded 18 points and 4 assists, Joaquim Gomes had 15 points and 16 rebounds with Ferlizardo Ambrosio adding 11 points and 6 rebounds.
Primeiro’s Vladimir Jeronimo was voted MVP, while APR’s Mathew Miller took home the best three pointer gong.
On the local scene, there was no big surprise as perennial champions APR dominated proceedings.
The Indomitable Lions like they like to be referred to dominated headlines after costing to a treble of titles; national league, play-offs and Gisembe memorial tournament to further affirm that Cliff Owour is by far the club’s most celebrated coach.
In the Play-offs final, APR roared to a two-straight game series win over 2004 league champions Espoir. Having wrestled to an 87-69 victory in the first game, Owour’s lions regrouped to dismantle Espoir with a well deserved 102-68 victory in the second game.
Just like in the men’s category, APR was immovable in the ladies and junior category. The club edged National University of Rwanda (UNR) while the juniors outgunned Kigali Institute of Education (KIE).