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Afrobeats and the lure of Cape Town: Basketball’s spotlight on the continent returns

SILALEI SHANI, BIRD STORY AGENCY

THE early February announcement by Zaire Wade, the son of NBA Legend Dwayne Wade, that he had signed to play for the Basketball Africa League’s (BAL) team, the Cape Town Tigers, in the 2023 season, has made waves in both basketball and sporting circles, across Africa.

The 6’1 guard, who has been plying his trade with the NBA’s G-League team, the Salt Lake City Stars, participated in the BAL Combine in Paris. The 2-day scouting event, which took place in January, drew 30 players from Africa, Europe, and the U.S., aspiring to play in Africa’s top-flighted tournament.

Wade averaged 4.6 points and 1.9 assists in 13 games for Salt Lake City Stars this season and is already training with the South Africa-based team.

Sika Kone on the drive at the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. Photo Courtesy: FIBA

“When I was younger, maybe I wouldn’t have thought that I would have went to Salt Lake and then over to Cape Town, but I think that’s what the journey is all about – life puts you in great situations and great places you never would have expected,” told ESPN regarding his move to the Cape Town Tigers from the Salt Lake City Stars.

The Cape Town Tigers have continued to make headlines thanks to Afrobeat superstar Oluwatosin Ajibade, better known as Mr Eazi. The 31- year-old singer took to Twitter to announce that he had become a shareholder in the Tigers, further raising the team’s profile and demonstrating the economic potential of African sports.

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In West Africa, women’s basketball has stolen the spotlight, thanks to Malian national side player Sika Kone, considered by many to be the best continental basketball player of her generation. The 20-year-old joins the WNBA’s New York Liberty in their upcoming season. Kone was the 29th draft pick by the New York team in 2022 but could not participate, due to injuries that prevented her from suiting up.

At 12, the young basketball player made it into the feeder club for Mali’s national team, and just 12 months later, she was selected to attend a national training camp.

At 15 years old, she was offered a scholarship to study at a British Academy School in Spain and played in Europe until her draft to the WNBA. At the 2021 U-19 Women’s Basketball World Cup in Hungary, Kone made history with Mali, lifting the African nation to its first-ever semi-final appearance in the FIBA tournament.

Playing for Mali, she finished in second place at the 2021 Afrobasket tournament behind Nigeria’s D’Tigress. Her outstanding abilities on the offensive and defensive end drew international attention and sealed her trajectory to the world’s top basketball league.

“I think I am prepared to compete in the WNBA. Also, the New York Liberty have an amazing line-up with the addition of players like Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, Jonquel Jones and Betnijah Laney. It would motivate me to share a dressing room with athletes like them or Sabrina Ionescu; In addition to facing the rest of the important players. I’m sure this would help me progress further,” said Kone.

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After a week of intense women’s basketball in Kampala, Egypt booked their ticket to the 2023 FIBA Women’s Afrobasket tournament, hosted later this year in Kigali.

Egypt beat hosts Uganda 74-65 at a packed-out MTN Arena in Lugogo. They join Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, and Cameroon and hosts Rwanda, who’ve already qualified.

FIBA Women’s Afrobasket Qualifiers All Tournament Team. Photo Courtesy: FIBA

With a 1-point loss to Uganda in their first encounter in the tournament, Egypt led the rankings in aggregate points by winning the rest of the games and delivering a sound 25-point beating to defending champions Kenya in the round-robin set-up.

The stage was set for the Egypt-Uganda showdown, which lived up to its hyped expectations with the scores tied 38-38 at the half. Egypt managed to stretch the lead to 12 points in the game’s final quarter, led by MVP Raneem Elgedawy’s 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The former Western Kentucky star averaged 19.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and lifted the trophy for the competition’s best scorer. Uganda couldn’t recover despite Brenda Ekone’s 25 points and Jannon Jaye Otto’s 14 points; however, they stand a chance to win FIBA Africa’s wild card to attend the Afrobasket in July.

With Afrobasket underway and the Basketball Africa League ramping up for the year, a number of commentators (including the writer) have argued that both local and international attention on African basketball has never been greater.

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By The African Mirror

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