On the day that the Basketball Africa League (BAL) Nile Conference got underway in Cairo, former NBA player Ike Diogu made his presence felt in a remarkable fashion.
Diogu sparked the BAL reigning champions offense with a team-high 17 points, Anas Mahmoud added 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Cameroonian international DJ Strawberry – another former NBA player with the Phoenix Suns – who became the first player to score in the Nile Conference, contributed 14 points as Zamalek beat Cobra Sport 80-63.
“It feels really good, especially playing in front of these amazing fans. One game down, four more left,” said Diogu, who scored his first 10 points in the opening quarter.
It was Zamalek’s seventh straight BAL victory after winning the inaugural season last year in Kigali undefeated in six games.
“Anytime you can win is always positive,” Diogu said, adding: “We don’t take that for granted, every game presents its own challenges, next game will be another challenge for us.”
Although Zamalek stepped on the floor on a desperation mode, Cobra Sport never backed down. Cobra Sport’s domination in the painted area forced Zamalek to look sloppy at times, forcing shots and looking idealess.
The South Sudan champions looked defiant for most of the first two quarters, but Zamalek used a 27-17 run in the third quarter to put them in total control of their destiny.
Despite the win, Diogu admitted that Zamalek “need get better at rebounding. These teams are supremely athletic, it was a good test for us.”
Asked about the key factor for Zamalek in the win, the Nigerian international player admitted that it was “a complete team effort. We just needed to come up with some stops. They are an athletic team. They made their runs, we made our runs, ultimately we were able to make more runs than them.”
Mayan Keer Kiir was in superb form for most of the 34 minutes that he spent on the floor, but his game-highs 18 points and 22 rebounds weren’t good enough to help the BAL debutant.
“We always believed that we could have won this game, but turnovers damaged our chances,” Kiir said.
Jared Harrington and David Deng finished with 11 points apiece, and Leon Hampson contributed 10 points in the losing cause.
Cobra out-rebounded Zamalek 52-41, but turning the ball over 22 times and persisting on individual plays proved costly for the East African club.
One of the highlights one of the night happened when two 15-year-olds scored their first BAL points.
Khaman Maluach (Cobra Sport) and Khadim Mboup (Zamalek), who share the same birthday (September 14, 2006) contributed two and six points, respectively.
Maluach came off the bench to score his first two BAL points in his first attempt.
“It felt nice. It was special. To play at this level at my age, it’s really hard, but this is being a great learning process for me,” said the seven-footer center.
Maluach went on saying that Cobra’s chances in the Nile Conference are “50-50.”
“We must play as a team, no matter the situation of the game. We have get locked in. Our chances are 50-50 in this tournament. We just need to control the ball better and play as a unity, and we’ll be fine,” said the former NBA Academy Africa player.