Nigerien side AS NIGELEC was the starting point for Abdoulaye Harouna to make his name known across Africa, but it was with Cameroon’s Forces Armées et Police Basketball (F.A.P) that the 28-year-old Nigerien reached stardom.
Four months ago, Harouna took the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) in Kigali, Rwanda by a storm when he propelled his F.A.P to the quarterfinals.
The Cameroonian side may have lost three of four games, but, at times, they made their opponents’ experience a nightmare. No wonder teams like Petro de Luanda, AS Sale and eventual champions Zamalek described F.A.P as one of the “toughest teams to play against.”
And Harouna?.. Well.. He proved that belongs in the BAL not only for his 19.3 points per game, but, especially, for the ferocity and tenacity with which he forced opponents to step up.
F.A.P arrived in Kigali as outsiders, but with the 6’5” Harouna on the court they never looked that way. Instead, they looked more like a team that could beat any team at any given time.
“Our coaching staff did a great job, but we didn’t execute as we should have,” he said to the BAL.
“I have to give credit to our coaching staff. [Coach Lazare and Coach François] because that was our identity going to the competition.; That’s how we were supposed to be as a team in order to be able to compete; We had an undersized squad, and we had to find a way to use it to our advantage. Other players talked about how tough we were because we run a lot and we played tough defence. That’s how we prepared for two months for the BAL.”
The former University of Miami RedHawks ace kept F.A.P in the hunt for a place in the semis, but It wasn’t meant to be for Harouna and his team who came up short against Zamalek in the quarterfinals.
Harouna admitted that “The toughest BAL game for me was the game against Zamalek. Let me rephrase it,” he asked. “The second half [against Zamalek] was the toughest because we didn’t execute well; also the last five minutes of the game against AS Sale; and. It’s hard to pick one game. I don’t think we had a tough game in general; we had some tough moments. The second half against Petro was tough for us also.”
Harouna’s journey to the BAL started during the qualification round when he featured for AS NIGELEC. And although AS NIGELEC finished its qualification round 3-4, Harouna’s jaw-dropping performance was the beginning of something big.
He says that F.A.P officials offered him an opportunity for play for them in the BAL, but Harouna thought it was one of those promises that would never materialise. But, when his phone rang he thought that that was the opportunity to introduce his game to the BAL audience.
“I have been playing basketball for years and years, but people didn’t know me in Africa because our national team hasn’t played the AfroBasket or qualification games. Thanks to the BAL, people started taking notice of my game.
“People need to know that we have a lot of basketball talent in Niger. From guards to bigs, we have all type of players in our country. The only issue is that we don’t have the opportunity to show our national team talent.
“The BAL means a lot to me as it gave me a chance to start my professional basketball career in Africa. Like me, the BAL has given African kids a chance to dream of playing professional basketball on our continent,” Harouna said.
The qualification round for the second season of the BAL is expected to start soon, and Harouna says he will do everything he can to appear in the BAL for the second time. Until the BAL fever returns again, Harouna is shaping his game up with AS NIGELEC, who , he says, has registered to participate in the qualification for the BAL.
“I have been trying to negotiate some contracts, but, so far, I haven’t signed with any team,” said the free-agent.
Asked to share his BAL experience, where teams and officials followed the COVID-19 protocols, Harouna said: “It was a nice experience to be part of the inaugural season of the BAL. Even though it was in a bubble system, it was really good. A few months earlier the NBA did the same in Orlando, Florida, and we were able to experience what it was like to be in a bubble and play basketball. It was a great experience overall. The best moment for me in the BAL was the qualification game against AS Police of Mali.”