ZAMALEK ARE THE CHAMPIONS OF THE INAUGURAL BASKETBALL AFRICA LEAGUE

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Zamalek on Sunday became the first-ever champions of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) after beating US Monastir 76-63 in the final at Kigali Arena.

It’s the Egyptian team’s second continental trophy, having won the FIBA Africa Champions Cup in 1992.

Walter Hodge, who joined Zamalek from US Monastir, was named the 2021 BAL Hakeem Olajuwon MVP award. Hodge, a two-time NCAA champion out of the University of Florida, recorded 12 points and four assists.

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For the first time, in the BAL, the Tunisian champions found themselves trailing at halftime (44-42).

“The problem of US Monastir was that throughout the tournament they never faced a team like ours,” Hodge said in the post-game presser. “When I joined Zamalek, some of my US Monastir were saying that Zamalek wasn’t a good team and I should just stay in Monastir. It’s been quite a journey,” said Hodge who averaged 13.7 points per game.

US Monastir reached the Championship game after victories over GNBC (Madagascar), Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria), Patriots BBC (Rwanda) in the group stages and a semi-finals win over AS Douanes (Senegal).

US Monastir’s Wael Arakji, who started for the first time in the tournament, tallied 11 points in the first half. Eventually, the international player from Lebanon finished with 13 points; Marcus Crawford added 14 points and Makrem Ben Romdhane contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds – his third BAL double-double.

At some point in the opening quarter, US Monastir led by as many as ten points, but Zamalek’s combative spirit and deep rotation brought them back to the contest.

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Mohab Yasser Abdallatif, the youngest player in this year’s BAL - exemplified Zamalek’s tenacity, on both ends for floor.

The 18-year-old, who is due to graduate from the NBA Africa academy in Dakar, finished with 14 points on a 6-for-8 shooting.

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Zamalek’s remarkable win was sparked by their contributions off the bench by Souleyman Diabate, Michael Fakuade and Chinemelu Elonu who combined for 40 Zamalek points. Zamalek opened a 15-point lead with eight minutes to play and never looked back.

Diabate, one of Africa’s finest point guards, sank three of his six three-point attempts to finish with 14 points alongside his game-high six assists.

“I take full responsibility for this loss, and I want to apologise to our fans back home,” said US Monastir head coach Mounir Ben Slimen.

“Zamalek was the better team and deserved the title.”