The Sunday Mail
Deputy Sports Editor
COULD the Basketball Africa League (BAL) be the dangling carrot that finally takes the local game to the next level?
This appears to be the all-important question currently doing the rounds as the local game shifts to this week’s Basketball Union of Zimbabwe (BUZ) National League Championships. BUZ president Joe Mujuru has thrown his weight behind this year’s edition, slated for June 1-3 in Harare, after having witnessed the upward trajectory in the quality of games in the country’s basketball provinces and during the zonal qualifiers.
“Well, if the zonal qualifiers are any indication of things to come, then we are in for quite a spectacle come the BUZ National League Championships,” said Mujuru.
“One of the key observations from what we saw in the south is that the gap between Bulawayo and Midlands is not as big as it once was. “It could possibly no longer exist as evidenced by teams like MSU Hawks and Southern Mavericks making the grade.
“In the North, we saw three Harare teams travel to Mutare and eliminate former national champions Mercenaries.
“Not only did these teams eliminate the highly favoured Eastern giants, but all three male teams beat them on their home turf.
“The Harare Super Six League could very well be all it is advertised to be, and, hopefully, this will spread across the country to benefit our national teams,” he said.
The winners of the men’s category have, over the last couple of years, secured a ticket to the regional qualifiers of the continental tournament club competition (BAL) — the brainchild of FIBA Africa and the NBA.
Zimbabwe’s previous representatives at the qualifiers have been Mercenaries and Foxes.
Although both teams have failed to make it past the preliminary rounds of the competition, Mujuru is hopeful the new entrants might turn the tide.
“There are plenty of reasons to be excited.
“We have already spoken about the improvements we have seen at the provincial level. Also, a lot is apparently happening behind closed doors.” He revealed that basketball clubs have broken with tradition and lured foreign talent into their ranks.
“Most of the participating teams have been strengthening their squads, and most of them are looking outside our borders for talent.’’
“We expect very competitive teams at the national league, after which the winner will move to the next level and come out tried and tested.
“Don’t be surprised if they look outside the region for talent. “Also, if you look at the makeup of the teams that are currently in the BAL main tournament, we have three teams from our region in Petro de Luanda (Angola), Clube Ferroviário da Beira (Mozambique) and Cape Town Tigers (South Africa).
“The region is well-represented and a team like Cape Town Tigers, which very few people knew or cared about a few years ago, gives every other small club in the region hope.
“If they can do it, so can every other team,” he said. Among those vying for a ticket to the BAL qualifiers are JBC, Foxes, Arcadia Bucs, Leopards Academy, Southern Mavericks, Legends, Warriors and Harare City Hornets.
While JBC and Foxes were automatic entries to the finals — as hosts and defending champions, respectively — the rest of the pack had to go through regional qualifiers to earn their place at the championships.
In the women’s category, Vixens and UZ Sparks go into the competition as defending champions and hosts.
The rest of the line-up — Harare City Hornets, MSU Hawks, JBC, Lakers Mzansi, Bunnies and Harare — found their way through the regional qualifiers.