Last Saturday, the 2015 FIBA Africa Zone Five Club Championships that started on October 4, climaxed at Amahoro indoor stadium, Kigali.
Returning to Rwanda for the first time in eight years since the 13th edition in 2007, the annual regional showpiece attracted a total of sixteen (10 male ad six female) teams from seven Zone V member states namely; Egypt, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda and hosts Rwanda.
As expected, Egyptian debutants Gezira won the men’s title while Burundi’s Berco Stars overcame stiff challenge from 2014 winners USIU (Kenya) and KCCA of Uganda to win the women’s crown.
The 2012 champions Espoir, who were among top favorites, finished as Rwandan best performers with a bronze while CSK finished seventh. In women’s tourney, debutants Ubumwe finished fourth with APR finishing sixth.
Men’s champions Gezira as well as the two women finalists; Berco Stars and KCCA qualified for this year’s FIBA Africa Club Championships to be staged in Angola later this year.
Saturday Sport looks at the lessons to learn from the week-long tournament.
1. Entertaining but poorly organized tournament
There is no doubt about the competitiveness and entertainment level of this year’s edition, especially in men’s category after Gezira’s late entry but from the organizational aspect, the tournament was far from perfect.
The tourney was a disappointment to many especially those who paid their hardly earned money for entrance from the first to the last day, to see which player would be voted the Most Valuable Player and who would make it to the best five players of the tournament.
To their bewilderment, there was no reservation for such awards, and when asked why there was no tournament MVP award, the Rwanda Basketball Federation (FERWABA) secretary general, Richard Mutabazi told Saturday Sport that, “FIBA Africa are the ones responsible for awards, this is how they wanted it.”
2. Noticeable unpreparedness for Rwandan sides
As hosts, Rwanda had the most number of teams with four, two in each gender but none of them managed to reach at least the final. Only Espoir, four-time reigning national champions won bronze.
In a post-match interview after losing 71-58 to Gezira in semi-finals, Espoir head coach Jean Bahufite admitted that some of his key players had not trained enough due to work commitments in the lead-up to the tournament.
“It was a finely balanced game until the final quarter. I’m not disappointed because we fought as hard as we possibly could, so there is no shame to lose to the best team in the tournament. The Egyptian league on a higher level to ours,” Bahufite told this paper.
He added, “Our two best players; Lionnel Hakizimana and skipper Aristide Mugabe trained with us occasionally due to work commitments, maybe we should have done better if they had been in training all the time.”
Before the tournament kicked off, APR women basketball club coach Charles Mbazumutima revealed he had issues with players’ availability in training and his side was only going to play for the sake of participating, not competing for the title, and indeed his team finished last out of six teams without a win.
3. Uganda is the new EAC basketball powerhouse
Rwanda is not a big threat to Uganda anymore when it comes to basketball in the region. Both at club and national team level, Uganda has surpassed Rwanda, who had dominated the region for a decade or so.
Only in this year’s Club Championships, Ugandan sides won four out five games they played against Rwandan teams with City Oilers beating Espoir, Tiger Head Power defeating CSK in men’s group stages and KCCA winning over Ubumwe and APR in women’s round-robin.
Only Espoir managed a win against a Ugandan side, narrowly beating Tiger 83-77 in the men’s third-place playoff.
Last year, Uganda proved dominance over Rwanda twice, first at the 20th FIBA Africa Zone V Club Championship in Mombasa, Kenya in August and a month later at the FIBA Africa Zone V Championship of Nations in Kampala, Uganda.
Talking of the Nations’ Championships, Uganda snapped a 69-61 win over Rwanda to qualify for this year’s Africa Basketball Championships staged in Tunisia where they finished 15th out of 16 nations.
While this was Uganda’s first appearance at the first Afro-Basket finals, it was the first time that Rwanda missed out since debuting 2007.
In the latest FIBA rankings, Rwanda dropped to 13th in Africa and 64th in the world while Uganda jumped to 21st on the continent and 89th in world ranking but unless the local basketball federation addresses the decline, it’s only a matter of time before Uganda overtakes Rwanda as the best hoops playing nation in the region.