Rivers Hoopers’ Robinson Opong represents four countries in the BAL


Rivers Hoopers star signing Robinson Odoch Opong will be representing no less than four countries at the Basketball Africa League, which tips off on May 16 in Kigali, Rwanda.

Opong, who was all set to lead Uganda to Afrobasket qualification when their run was cut short, is hoping to use his presence at the Basketball Africa League to represent that country, which he was neither born nor raised in, regardless.

This February, five members of the Silverbacks team tested positive for COVID-19, forcing FIBA into an abrupt suspension of the rest of their games.

Opong, who was born in Kenya and raised in Canada, told ESPN ahead of the Hoopers’ tournament opener against host the Patriots on May 16: “I’m playing for Uganda, too, even if I am playing for a Nigerian team.

“Because Uganda do not have a team at the BAL, I feel like me playing here is Uganda playing here, too. Hopefully when we win, we can have a party in Kampala and Nigeria at the same time.”

Against Morocco in those qualifiers, the Canada-raised guard was in solid form, scoring 29 points, including seven three-pointers to help Uganda claim a slim 94-90 win. Before the forced interruption, he was averaging 19 points, four rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 44.4% from the field.

Those numbers, his overall leadership on and off the floor, and experience with US college hoops [at Rogers State University] and the Canadian Elite Basketball League, contributed to making him one of the most sought-after players for the BAL.

The Hoopers secured Opong as one of the players to fill their allotted foreign player quota, and having secured his place on the roster, he has set his sights high with the Nigerian team.

“I want to make it to the playoffs,” he said. “I think we have what it takes to make it there. And from there, I mean, anything is possible in this type of environment.

“It’s going to be about what team is able to click, and what team is able to make multiple stops defensively and just play well as a group. So right now, I think we just have to make it the playoffs and grow every day and take it day by day and team by team and I think the sky’s the limit for us.”

The other players signed on to fill that four-player foreign allotment are Americans Taren Sullivan, a forward, and Chris Daniels, a centre. This is in addition to experienced Nigeria guard Ben Uzoh.

All of which — in addition to a very talented squad — have helped tip the four-time Nigerian champions as one of the favourites for the BAL title, provided they gel.

Opong added: “I think we have a lot of versatility. That’s what is most exciting about it. I can shoot. Ben can get in the paint and distribute and attack and be very athletic. Taren can bring a lot on the court, he can play inside or outside. Chris is a very skilled big.

“For me, I’ll just bring my competitive spirit. You’ll see me just go after it on both ends of the floor, just trying to make plays and win a basketball game.

“I think we bring a lot of different tools to this team. And that’s something to be to be fearful of if I was another team. I think we have the tools to make it.”

The competition was initially scheduled to be held on a home and away basis for all the teams. That format was ditched in favour of a bubble model with all the teams converging in Rwanda for the tournament.

On arrival in Kigali, teams had to undergo quarantine and could not practise together. Coloured wristbands were used for separation: Fresh arrivals were given blue bands. After a few days, those were upgraded to yellow and, by the end of the first week, the yellow bands went to the green ‘all clear’ bands.

Only players with green bands are allowed to interact and practice together. Odoch says it has been quite the adjustment: “We’re practising right now but it is individual practice. Basically, every player has one basket.

“So, it’s not like you’re practising with teammates, you’re not passing the ball like that. You have your basket, you work out there.

“But you can’t just wait for those limited minutes you get, those little slots allowed for your team to work out. You need to do some extra work in your room.

“Just do your stretching, do your lunges, do your cardio, that’s what we have to do as professionals and yeah, this is the new normal, so you just got to do with it and try to stay as sharp as possible.

“It’s not easy. But for me, I try not to eat too much, because, you know, we’re not moving as much as we used to. I try to keep a strict diet. And I try to do some extra work in my room, just to stay fit and stay ready to get on the court.”

Despite the challenges, Odoch is happy to become a part of African basketball history: “I’m excited. I just can’t wait to get out there and play. This is history.

“You know, we had this championship before, like, involving all the best clubs in Africa but never as well organized as this and the NBA partnering with the International Basketball Federation makes it huge.

“So definitely, you just feel it. Everyone is excited about it, being part of the first edition and this is history right now.”

Source link