New recruits boost Al Ahly as they begin Basketball Africa League title defence

Exciting Egyptian-American talent Gardner set to star for Eagles who are bidding to become first repeat champions

Al Ahly ready to kick off BAL title defence in Cairo

Al Ahly ready to kick off BAL title defence in Cairo
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With a trusted leader in Ehab Amin, and some last-minute reinforcements that include NBA G League rookie Patrick Gardner, Al Ahly are ready to commence their Basketball Africa League (BAL) title defence on Friday evening as the Nile Conference tips off in Cairo.

Taking on Uganda’s City Oilers in their opener at the Hassan Mostafa Indoor Sports Complex (7pm local time, 9pm UAE), Al Ahly are bidding to become the first repeat champions in the history of the BAL.

Spread across three conferences – Kalahari (March 9-17), Nile (April 19-27) and Sahara (May 4-12) – staged in Pretoria, Cairo, and Dakar, the ongoing fourth season of the BAL will see Africa’s top teams battle for spots in the playoffs and finals, which will take place in Kigali, Rwanda from May 24 to June 1.

“There’s always pressure playing for Al Ahly club, especially as defending champs; everybody expects you to win every game, and probably by double digits. It’s not going to be like that, we know that,” star point guard Amin told The National on Thursday.

“The competition is definitely getting better, year after year, especially this season. A lot of the imports are definitely better than last year’s, even the locals are getting better, so we know the competition and the games are going to be tougher.

“Not to look ahead too far, for the Nile Conference, we’ve got six games in nine days, which is brutal. Coach is probably going to manage a lot of our minutes in some games.”

This year, the Nile Conference will see the four teams – Al Ahly (Egypt), City Oilers (Uganda), Al Ahly Ly (Libya), and Bangui Sporting Club (Central African Republic) – play each other twice, giving coaches the opportunity to do better scouting and prepare their sides for a stronger second encounter.

Al Ahly boss Agusti Bosch has brought in three new additions to the Red Eagles squad in order to help them navigate the gruelling BAL schedule, in the form of Gardner, Tony Mitchell Jr and Prince Adams Ali.

Gardner, a New York-born Egyptian-American who joined the Pharaohs’ national team last summer for the first time, wrapped up an impressive rookie campaign with the Long Island Nets in the NBA G League just 12 days ago, making it to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the Maine Celtics.

The 24-year-old center quickly hopped on a plane from New York to Cairo to join Al Ahly, a club that has been close to his heart from a young age.

Gardner was born and raised in New York to an American father and Egyptian mother, who took him on summer trips to Egypt as a child and bought him Al Ahly jerseys as a way to connect with his roots and commemorate those visits.

Gardner now gets to suit up for the Cairo giants, nine months after making his debut with the Egyptian national team.

“It's a great honour to be with Ahly and to compete in something like this,” Gardner told The National on Thursday.

“I think just overall I'm becoming a better person, just how everyone carries themselves, how good of a teammate they are. I can learn a lot from them. And I'm very honoured to be around guys like this. So I think that's the biggest thing I take away.”

Coach Bosch believes Gardner brings a great deal of versatility to the squad, noting he can utilise him as a center or in the power forward position.

Amin, who played with Gardner on the national team, says the New Yorker wasted no time in blending in with everyone and is happy to have him on board with the Red Eagles during the BAL.

“He integrated really quickly actually, especially with the national team, and here as well because he knows most of us national team guys.

“He's a very versatile player, he adds a lot to the table. He can play the four (position), he can play the five, he can play with his back to the basket, he can face, he can really shoot the three, he's good at pick and pops, pick and rolls, so he's very versatile and very hard to defend.

“And he showed with the national team in the three games we played here how good defensively he can be, having big blocks in the Cote d’Ivoire game, even though we lost that, and he’s been getting even better and better and showing his talents in the G League these last few months.

“So he's a huge addition for us and we're very happy he's with us in the Egyptian national team and in Ahly and hopefully for years to come. He's very young still.”

On his part, Amin is aware of the pressure on his shoulders as the star and leader of the team, serving as co-captain alongside Mohamed Abo El Nasr in the absence of injured Ahly captain Seif Samir. It is a role the 28-year-old point guard is comfortable in and one that has come naturally to him.

“For me, I feel like other than the captain stuff, I’m more like a leader in the team even though I’m not the oldest in age or time with Al Ahly,” explained Amin.

“But I just try to lead by example on and off the floor and that’s more of my concern. I think that’s where I can add to the team with some experience I have, bringing the young guys and the old guys together, because I feel like I’m kind of the bridge between both.

“So I think we have a very close team and that’s one of our strengths, that we’ve been together now for four, five years, so it’s very good for us.”

The BAL is Africa’s premier club competition and a collaboration between the NBA and FIBA (International Basketball Federation), who have high ambitions for the event as they build towards making it one of the strongest basketball leagues in the world.

“The potential is huge. Africa… I’m biased, but it’s definitely one of the best continents talent-wise in the world and it’s getting better,” said Amin.

“The BAL is doing a great job integrating a lot of African people working in their home continent. It’s beautiful that everybody coming around from the whole continent working together, whether it’s in Cape Town (Pretoria), Dakar, Kigali or Cairo, and it’s getting better and better every year.

“Hopefully it gets even bigger, I think that would help it a lot, if they add maybe four to six teams next season. I think that would help it because some leagues like Egypt have a lot of teams I think that can compete in the BAL and even reach the round of eight or the semi-finals.”

Nile Conference action kicks off in Cairo on Friday with Al Ahly Ly taking on Bangui Sporting Club at 4pm before hosts and reigning champions Al Ahly square off with City Oilers at 7pm.

A full schedule of half-time entertainment has been announced for the nine-day conference, which includes performances from Sharmoofers, Hassan Shakoush, Disco Misr, Abu, and Mahmoud El Esseily.

Tickets are available on and start from just EGP75.

Updated: April 19, 2024, 1:56 PM