Basketball Africa League: Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers Make History, Reaching First Ever BAL Semifinals

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Rivers Hoopers made history on Monday at BK Arena in Kigali where they outlasted former BAL champions US Monastir to advance to the semifinals. Ogoh Odaudu’s team played their hearts out, fighting for every possession putting everything on the line. In the end, history was made as they are the first Nigerian side to reach the Basketball Africa League Semifinals beating the Tunisian champions 92-88.

The Port Harcourt-based team came a long way to reach this stage of the pan-African basketball league. After finishing 1-2 during the inaugural season of the BAL and missing the following two seasons, the Nigerian champions felt it was time for a change. Right at the start of the 2024 BAL season, Odaudu warned they were built and prepared to make history – and history was indeed made.

It all started early this month in Dakar, Senegal, where they won the Sahara Conference with a convincing 4-2 mark. Even though the Hoopers fell short to AS Douanes in the classification round in Kigali, they stepped up when it mattered most, and US Monastir paid the price for facing a team eager to rewrite their BAL history.

“This win means a lot to us as a country,” said Devine Eke who scored the first two points of the game and finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. “We are here to compete,” Eke continued, adding, “This is a big victory, not just for the club, but the job is not done. We still have a lot more work to do.”

The Hoopers’ determination was so intense that they trailed by one (16-15) in the opening quarter, but, once they regained the lead, they never looked back, leading by as many as 12 points. In his third BAL season, after two consecutive stints with Ferroviário da Beira, Will Perry had only one goal in mind, to try the BAL Playoffs experience. And he played one his best BAL games. On Monday, Perry shot 9-for-15 to finish with a game-high of 33 points while dishing out 5 assists.

“This team is built to compete,” he said days before the start of the Sahara Conference. “We were super focused,” Perry explained when asked about the team’s mental state before and during the game against an US Monastir team they shared one win apiece during the Sahara Conference. “Monastir are really hard to guard because they have Chris Crawford playing the pick-and-roll really well and [Ater] Majok is a super good screener. We struggled little bit with that part of it, but at the end, our offense took over.” Perry expressed how he felt after the win , saying, “I am super happy for Rivers Hoopers club, they deserve it because they prepared the right way and they took it seriously.” “Coach is a humble man, and a great coach and he deserves it.” “I am super happy for Port Harcourt and the country of Nigeria,” Perry added.

Rivers Hoopers team manager Ifie Ozaka, the man behind Rivers Hoopers’ rebuilding, was lost for words minutes after the game.

“It has been an amazing journey since 2021 when we came here as newcomers,” Ozaka said. “We only won one game at the time,” he recalled. “What we did differently was that we went back and prepared. We came here because we want to be at the podium.” “We knew the kind of players we wanted on and off court. We spent some good money getting these players. This is a team. It’s not a group of individuals, that’s what we were able to build. This success is a teamI effort

 

The Rivers Hoopers will next face off against Libya’s Al Ahly Ly in the semifinals later today, May 29. Al Ahly Ly ended the 2023 BAL winners Al Ahly SC’s season with an 86-77 victory. The other semifinal match will see Cape Town Tigers of South Africa go up against Angola’s Petro de Luanda. Except for Petro de Luanda, the other three semi-finalists have reached this stage of the league for the very first time. The losing teams of the 2024 BAL Semifinals will face off in the Third-Place game on Friday, May 31 while the winner of the season will be known on Saturday, June 1.

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