The South Africa national championships of basketball took place over the weekend in Johannesburg, with each of the 9 provinces entering a men’s and women’s team. The South Africa Defence Force also provided a men’s and women’s side, rounding out the tournament at 10 teams. The tournament showcased the best basketball players from each region in South Africa, but the centrepiece of this year’s tournament was the announcement that professional basketball would be making its return to South Africa this year.
Professional basketball had a good run in South Africa from 1993 to 1996, and had a brief, 3-month return in 2006 before collapsing again under the continual problems of insufficient funding and poor governance. On Friday, however, South Africa’s Minister of Sport attended the national championships to announce that a 12-team league (known as the BNL) will begin play in September, including teams from all 9 provinces. The news received a warm welcome from players at the tournament, many who have a great passion for the game but nowhere to play outside of pickup games, informal local leagues, and the annual national tournament.
As far as the tournament itself, Kwa-Zulu Natal Province (which includes Durban) was coached by PPI-SA HR/Finance Manager
Mtu Zulu and International Fellow Kyler McClary (that’s me!) went 5-1, with their lone loss coming in the championship game against perennial power Gauteng Province (which includes the major cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria). Although Kwa-Zulu Natal held a small lead in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Gauteng’s size and depth was overpowering down the stretch. Nonetheless, Kwa-Zulu Natal made a strong showing and displayed a wealth of young, up and coming talent. Over the course of the tournament they defeated eventual 3rd place winner North West Province by 25 points, eventual 4th place winner Limpopo by 10 points, 5th place Mpumalanga by 40 points, traditional power Western Cape (Cape Town and surrounding area) by 30 points, and Northern Cape by 65 points.
The need for a professional league was evident throughout the tournament, as many players struggled against top competition due to lack of exposure to that level of play. The BNL and the exposure it will provide for players will benefit all South African hoopers, but especially those in provinces that don’t include the major population centers of Johannesburg/Pretoria, Durban, and Cape Town. Consistent competition against the top players in South Africa, an organized training schedule, and a sprinkling of foreign players mixed in will help the level of basketball played in South Africa skyrocket. There are even talks of a television contract with SuperSport, who would televise the BNL games to a national audience, which will bolster the game’s national profile. SuperSport was at the tournament all weekend capturing highlights, interviews, and the title game for future airing.
Perhaps most importantly, the BNL will provide youth basketball players in the country, including all of PPI-SA’s 600+ participants, more motivation to play the game and continue developing their skills. There are finally opportunities to look forward to for young basketball players in South Africa, and a platform for them to showcase the skills they have acquired. I can’t wait to tell the kids.