When the Basketball Africa League (BAL) tips off on Sunday in Kigali, Rwanda, only one Ugandan player will have the opportunity to take to the floor.
Robinson Odoch Opong will turn out for Nigerian outfit Rivers Hoopers who open the tournament in a clash with host club Patriots at the Kigali Arena.
He joined the team as a replacement for injured Festus Ezeli, the 2015 NBA champion with Golden State Warriors.
Opong’s exploits with the national basketball team, the Silverbacks, and his experience on the continent attracted the attention of the Nigerian team.
Having played for Uganda at the 2017 Fiba Afrobasket Championship and 2021 Afrobasket Qualifiers, Opong is no stranger to this level. “It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to,” Opong says ahead of the inaugural BAL tournament run by the NBA.
“It is another opportunity to play at a high level and compete on a high stage,” he adds.
The Kigali Arena, where the tournament will be held, carries no good memories for the Canada-based guard. The last time he stepped on the floor there in December 2019, he failed to lead Ugandan side City Oilers to the group stages of BAL.
Opong had the opportunity to play at this level with a Ugandan side but City Oilers failed to get into the lucrative group stages after a dismal display at the last hurdle of qualifiers in 2019. Whether it’s with Oilers or not, Opong has the chance to lift the black, yellow and red flag at the event. “I remember being disappointed,” the 32-year old reminisces of Oilers’ failed attempt. The guard’s call came in late as the Hoppers had settled for Ezeli who later pulled out injured. “When the offer came it felt like the right thing to do,” Opong says.
That he was selected by a Nigerian side to take one of the four available spots for foreign players is not something Opong takes for granted. It is all about making every opportunity count now. Former NBA guard Ben Uzoh, Taren Sullivan and Chris Daniels are the other three signings by the Hoopers.
The inaugural BAL season was originally scheduled for March 13, 2020 but was postponed following the outbreak of Covid-19.
The tournament is now set to be played from May 16-30 in the Rwandan capital under strict supervision and Opong hopes for good health.
“I pray that everyone stays healthy so we can accomplish big things together,” the 6ft 3in players says. His team has designs on getting into the playoffs and eventually competing for the top prize.
US Monastir (Tunisia), Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria), Patriots BBC (Rwanda) and GNBC (Madagascar)
Petro de Luanda (Angola), AS Salé (Maroc), AS Police (Mali) and FAP (Cameroun)
Zamalek (Egypt), AS Douanes (Senegal), Ferroviário de Maputo (Mozambique) and GS Pétroliers (Algeria).