This season’s playoffs will arguably be the most competitive ever, thanks to the fact that the two teams that will be rubbing shoulders have reinforced their squads in an unprecedented way.
Defending champions Rwanda Energy Group (REG) have brought back Cleveland Thomas Junior and Adonis Filer – the two American guards that tore apart opponent defenses during this year’s edition of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) where REG finished in the quarterfinals.
The duo will play alongside other players who were already in REG’s ranks including pacey point guard Jean Jacques Nshobozwabyosenumukiza, experienced Congolese center Pitchou Manga and hardworking Rwandan power forward Ellie Kaje.
On the other hand, The Patriots have also invested a lot in reinforcing their squad for the playoffs.
Last month they announced the capture of Chris Crawford, an American point guard who boasts experience accrued from various leagues, and Kendall Gray, an American center with formidable defence skills.
In this article, Times Sport takes a look at some of the players to watch when the two sides meet in the best-of-five finals that will get underway on September 7 through 16 at the BK Arena.
REG Cleveland Thomas Jr
Thomas, 28 plays as a shooting guard. He is a good passer of the ball, a thinker for the team, and boasts the ability to score points, including some good three-pointers.
During this year’s BAL for example, he contributed a game-high 26 points as REG defeated AS Sale 91-87 at the Dakar Arena in March.
He was a key asset for REG in the BAL’s Sahara Conference games, averaging a team-high 19 points per game.
Point guard Filer, 29, is arguably the most skilled player in this year’s playoffs.
He is an excellent handler of the ball, good in the pick-and-roll, and finding teammates on the weak side.
He is also pacey, and has good athleticism, and can always conjure those long range three pointers.
His combination with Thomas with whom they have played a number of matches together will be one to watch, and The Patriots may need to get a solution to it if they are to beat REG.
Jean-Jacques Wilson Nshobozwabyosenumukiza
The 23-year-old is one of the best basketball players in Rwanda currently, due to his contribution for both club and country.
Standing at 1.83m, Nshobozwa’s speed, hard work, attacking ferocity and defensive acumen make up for his diminutive nature.
Nshobozwabyosenumukiza was named on the All-Defensive team of the just-concluded Basketball Africa League (BAL) 2022.
Nshobozwabyosenumukiza is one of the best point guards in the country, and boasts good defensive qualities like speed and ferocity in his game.
In the BAL, he averaged 1.7 steals per game, 3.7 average defensive rebounds, 14.2 points per game, and 3.5 assists per game, making him one of the top performers for REG in the tournament.
The Patriots: Chris Crawford
Standing at 1.93m, point guard Crawford has good size that enables him to be an asset both in attack and defence.
He is a good scorer who, for example, pulled off a strong performance for Guinea’s SLAC at the BAL, where in a game against Dakar Universite Club Basketball (DUC), he scored 30 points as his team claimed an 85-70 victory.
In the same tournament, he offered much to SLAC, contributing 21.4 points and 4.8 assists per game.
Gray is an experienced player who has featured for various teams in the United States of America, Africa and Europe.
He played college basketball for Delaware State University, being named the 2014-15 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year, becoming the fourth selection in school history to earn the honor.
He is very good in defence. He knows how to make timely blocks, but can do some scoring in the paint.
In the first window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers that took place in Dakar, Senegal in March this year, he registered Rwanda’s highest efficiency rate (13) in the first two games while contributing 10 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2 blocked shots per game.
He is one of the players to look out for in the playoffs.
Habimana is one player that has been steadily rising in the last two to three years. He currently seems very ready to shine at the big stage.
Born in Canada to Rwandan parents, the 25-year-old has played for the Rwandan national team since last year.
He is a deft guard who loves to drive forward, but always thinks about passing the ball and finding someone in the corner as his team attacks.
Recently, he showed that he has come of age when he stepped up and played a major role as The Patriots beat REG in the second round of the league.
He was the MVP of the game, as he scored 18 points and put up good attacking plays that created good opportunities for his team mates.