Bruno Fernando: Houston Rocket star buoyed by African basketball growth

2 months ago 387

Bruno Fernando in action for Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets' Angolan forward Bruno Fernando says the Basketball Africa League (BAL) has had a "very significant impact" on the status of the sport on the continent.

The BAL was launched in 2021 as a joint venture between the NBA and basketball's governing body Fiba, with the continental championship designed to provide a bigger platform for African players.

Featuring 12 teams from across the continent, the tournament has already made profound change in the eyes of the only Angolan to have ever graced the NBA.

"Now players know that to be seen, you don't have to get out of Africa anymore," Fernando, whose sports agency announced a new four-year dealexternal-link with the Rockets on Sunday, told BBC Sport Africa.

"You don't have to go and play in the best teams in Europe or the best universities in America, you can stay on the continent and perform well.

"To see the NBA involved in so many different situations back home now in Africa with tournaments, with Basketball Without Borders, with all sorts of events - it's big. It gives us more exposure - we have a lot of talent in the continent but now we are able to be seen.

"People are able to wake up and watch BAL game. It's had a very significant impact. It's a light that the continent needed and for it to be happening the way it is, is amazing to see."

The first edition of the BAL was played in 2021 with Egypt's Zamalek winning the title, with that year's runners-up US Monastir of Tunisia going on to win the 2022 edition.

'Thrilled' by Angola comeback

US Monastir celebrate with the BAL trophyUS Monastir won the BAL title this year after finishing as runners-up last season

In August, Fernando made his long-awaited Angola return, playing for the first time in six years as he led the team to three straights wins in the 2023 World Cup qualifiers.

Playing in Ivory Coast, Angola beat Uganda, Cape Verde and Nigeria and can secure their place when the qualifiers conclude in February - with the finals starting in August.

Fernando was joined by DR Congo's Jonathan Kuminga (Golden State Warriors), Nigeria's Josh Okogie (Phoenix Suns) and Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings), Uganda's Ishmail Wainright (Phoenix Suns) and Senegal's Gorgui Dieng (San Antonio Spurs) as current NBA players turning out for their countries.

"I was so proud to see it because we are getting better and evolving as a continent," he explained.

"The basketball is getting better and for us as athletes that is what we want to see. The more we grow, the more opportunity comes to the continent. It has elevated the level of competition.

"It's been a long time coming and I think it is time now for basketball in Africa to grow."

Angola have been historic heavyweights in continental basketball, winning a record 11 men's Afrobasket titles in a period of almost unchallenged dominance between 1989 and 2013.

For the past decade however, the team has struggled but Fernando is hoping his experience can usher in a new era of success.

"This was my first time going back as a professional basketball player and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel any pressure," he said of the World Cup qualifiers.

"The last time I played, I was a 17-year-old kid playing on the U18 team. Now, the stakes and expectations are different, the quality of basketball on my end is different, and the quality of competition is different.

"I feel some pressure to perform well, to win the games, to hold my composure and show great attitude and be a great team player. I think I did my part and helped us win the games.

"I was thrilled to be back wearing the uniform again. To see the fans in the stands and go and talk to them after the game was something I missed."

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