When African champions US Monastir step onto the court docket on Friday on the FIBA Intercontinental Cup (ICC), it may very well be captain Radhouane Slimane’s remaining probability to show himself on basketball’s world stage.
In a profession spanning virtually 25 years, the 42-year-old, 6’9” (2-metre) energy ahead from Kairouan, a desert metropolis in northern Tunisia, has additionally performed in Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Morocco – profitable eight Tunisian league titles, 5 Tunisian Cup titles and two Arab Membership Championships.
He has represented his nation on the World Cup, Olympics, and AfroBasket – the continental competitors for nationwide groups, the place he has gained with Tunisia 3 times.
Nonetheless, Slimane has all the time lived with a lingering sense of frustration: that he by no means made it to the best degree and fulfilled the profession he was advised his expertise deserved.
“A lot of agents and a lot of coaches told me I would easily play in the NBA, but the media [coverage] here in Tunisia [is close to] zero,” he advised Al Jazeera.
Slimane had performed for Monastir in 2014, and in 2020, he returned for a second stint on the membership, which has been a rising power in recent times.
“I believe in the project of Monastir to dominate basketball in Tunisia, Arab countries and Africa, and I came back to help them do this,” he stated.
He led them to consecutive Tunisian league titles, was named Last MVP of their 2022 Tunisian Cup profitable aspect, and captained his aspect to 2022 Basketball Africa League (BAL) glory whereas being named within the BAL workforce of the yr.
Now he’s eyeing the upcoming FIBA ICC, thought of to be basketball’s world membership cup, which is able to characteristic an African workforce for less than the second time. Hosted by Tenerife, Spain this yr, the FIBA ICC will even characteristic the primary look by a Tunisian aspect.
Monastir’s inclusion displays not solely the expansion of the African sport, but additionally Tunisia’s decade-long rise to continental dominance.
‘He’s had a huge impact’
When Monastir beat Angola’s Petro de Luanda 83-72 within the 2022 BAL remaining in Kigali, Rwanda, some imagine it underlined the facility shift in African males’s basketball.
Angola had been for lengthy African basketball’s high canine, with their membership groups each bit as all-conquering because the nationwide aspect. However since Tunisia gained the 2011 AfroBasket in Madagascar – ending the Southern African nation’s run of six straight titles – the tide has steadily turned.
Tunisia had been champions once more in 2017 and picked up one other title at the latest version in 2021 in Rwanda.
Based on Slimane, Tunisian basketball was sturdy even when he was rising up in Kairouan. Whereas soccer is the nation’s greatest sport, basketball can be fairly in style. Slimane grew up dwelling and respiratory hoops, impressed by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
Slimane stated Tunisian basketball lengthy suffered from a scarcity of sufficient tall gamers, however he believes the Tunisian league is now the very best in Africa.
“We have good, talented players and we have excellent coaches – here, coaches are very educated with high degrees. This is why the development of basketball in Tunisia is at a good level compared to the other leagues in Africa that I know well,” he stated.
“What makes Monastir [better than] other teams in Tunisia is that they have a good project, they invest a lot in basketball, they bring in the best foreign players,” he stated.
Amrou Bouallegue, Slimane’s 28-year-old Monastir teammate who not too long ago signed from native rivals ES Radès, advised Al Jazeera that gamers of his era had been impressed by Slimane.
“He had a big impact and took the game to another level in the country with his size and his shooting ability – posting up, playing face to the basket, he was ahead of his time with his skill set,” Bouallegue stated.
“He is one of a kind. For him to be still playing at the highest level is crazy,” he added.
“You’ve got to understand how he reached that level; it’s only by his focus, his mentality, his commitment to the game.”
‘We’re going to compete’
Monastir’s first opponents on the FIBA ICC shall be Basketball Champions League winners Lenovo Tenerife on Friday.
Relying on their outcome, they’ll then both face the dropping aspect of the conflict between G League champions Rio Grande Valley Vipers and BCL Americas kings São Paulo within the third-place playoff or the winners within the remaining on February 12.
“We’re not going to think about just winning the [first ICC] game. We’re just going to compete, show ourselves and be aggressive and we’ll see what happens,” Bouallegue stated.
Will Voigt, the present Raptors 905 affiliate head coach and former San Antonio Spurs video coordinator, coached Egypt’s Zamalek eventually yr’s Intercontinental Cup, the place they misplaced each video games.
He stated Monastir are higher ready for this yr’s Intercontinental Cup than Zamalek had been final yr, as he had simply taken the job in Cairo proper earlier than the marketing campaign.
However Monastir will even be dealing with extra settled groups with a comparatively new workforce of their very own – they’ll subject extra overseas gamers as they aren’t sure by the Tunisian league’s limitation of overseas gamers at a time on the court docket.
“Obviously, there are still steps to be made [in African basketball],” Voigt advised Al Jazeera.
“In terms of the course of an entire season, we’re not [on par with the best leagues in the world] yet, but in terms of being able to be competitive on the court in any given game, yeah — absolutely. I think Monastir can be competitive.”
‘I want them to achieve their dreams’
Slimane says he has retired from the nationwide workforce as they concentrate on constructing a brand new, younger workforce. He was satisfied to delay this plan prior to now, however doesn’t anticipate that he shall be swayed once more. He plans to retire from membership basketball both this yr, after the BAL, or in 2024, after which desires to enter teaching.
“I like to develop basketball in Africa and help the talented players because when I was young, I didn’t find anybody to help me,” he stated. “I want to help these players to achieve their dreams.”
He coached gifted younger gamers on the Basketball With out Borders (BWB) Africa camp in Cairo final yr, alongside the likes of Voigt, Steve Kerr, Chauncey Billups, Grant Williams, Malcolm Brogdon and Mo Bamba.
“Based on his experience, I think he could provide a lot of insight to African players,” Voigt stated.
Whereas Slimane’s era of gamers by no means reaped the total advantages of their expertise, the infrastructure of African basketball has developed significantly in recent times.
For the reason that NBA Africa Academy opened in Senegal in 2017, it has grow to be considerably simpler for African gamers to fast-track their careers by NCAA Division I schools.
However earlier than Slimane palms over to a brand new era, he’ll look to defy the chances and his age, probably for the final time.
“It’s the love of basketball – this is my motivation,” he stated when requested what’s holding him entering into what’s going to probably be the ultimate stretch of his profession.
“I live for basketball.”