American tactician Dean Murray is taking Rwanda Energy Group (REG) (REG) to the Basketball Africa League (BAL) 2023 season hoping to mastermind the team’s mission to achieve better strides when the tournament’s regular season kicks off in Dakar, Senegal on March 11.
The experienced coach, who previously coached in the Taiwan P-1 League, Korean Basketball League, Chinese Basketball Association and NBA Developmental League, signed to coach the club in February after reaching an agreement to lead the Rwandan champions in the upcoming BAL 2023, replacing Henry Mwinuka who resigned to rejoin Patriots.
Times Sport’s Damas Sikubwabo caught up with Murray where he shared the club’s preparation progress and their ambitions ahead of the BAL.
How does it feel for you to coach a Rwandan club at the BAL?
I’m looking forward to it. The last time I was here, I was supposed to coach in the first edition of the BAL with the Patriots. Unfortunately, that was during the Covid-19, so the BAL got canceled. Then I didn’t get to come back for the first edition. So I’m really happy to be here this time and coaching a Rwandan team in the BAL.
You have spent some time now with REG’s roster. How would you rate the players’ level heading into the BAL?
Well, one good thing is that coming into this, a lot of times you have to get your team in game condition. And, fortunately, all the players have been playing in the league. So that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about. Everybody is in good shape, which is great and everybody has been playing against each other, good physical games, in the league. So that should help us prepare well for the BAL.
Tell us a little about your new signings. And did you have a hand in signing them?
Delwan Graham‘s arrival was a consensus by everybody. They asked me if I could help find a four man, five man that would help the team. And I got a few candidates together, and the coaches and the management decided together about bringing him in.
Tell us more about Graham. How useful could he be for REG?
Graham is an excellent player. First, you notice that he has good experience. He is a veteran player; has played all over the world. He played in the Ukraine super league, and played in some high level leagues.
He is a versatile player who can play four, he can play outside. He is strong enough to guard a big man on the inside, and he should be versatile too as far as guarding two, three, and four men in the games.
Before your trip to Sahara Conference games, did you manage to look into your opponents?
Well, we’ve started that process, which is a little bit difficult. Most of the teams have new coaches that didn’t coach in the domestic league in their countries. So that’s a little bit of a challenge, but we have begun that process already.
Which team do you think poses the biggest threat to REG ahead of the Sahara Conference?
Well, obviously the defending champions Monastir. So that’s going to be a challenge against them. Experienced team; championship team. There are two or three teams that haven’t played in the BAL, so that’s a little bit of an unknown; you wonder whether they have the experience to compete in the BAL but, at the same time, you really don’t know much about them. I am sure all the teams would be good opponents.
During the short time that you have spent with this team, which areas have you been working on together?
Well, just coming together as a team. We have five or six new players that have not played together. We are working on the continuity of the team. Obviously, in the beginning, it’s a little bit slower putting in new offensive sets, putting in a different type of defense, but as we get through the next four or five practices and head to Senegal, hopefully everything will come together.
Have you scheduled any buildup games before the BAL?
We are going to try to have a scrimmage game against a local team. We go to Senegal on Monday, so there’s really not a lot of time to do that.
What are REG’s targets at BAL 2023?
Well, obviously the first goal is: we have to qualify to come to the finals in Kigali. I’ve already spoken to the team about this, that even though we’re the host team, we’re not guaranteed a spot in the final eight. So we just have to go one game at a time and make sure we clear through the group to get to the finals.
Once you qualify for the finals, how much do you think the home advantage can be to you?
Well, you know, not to get ahead of ourselves, we want to qualify, and if we do qualify, obviously playing in front of the home fans in Rwanda will be a big plus.
What is your message to the fans?
I know that right now all the players are excited and enthusiastic about the tournament and the team we have put together. I think you know you can count on us playing hard every game. Hopefully playing great defence to set up our offense and hopefully can get to Kigali for the finals and give the fans something to cheer for.