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Basketball Africa League prepares for return on Saturday

Here's everything you need to know before the third BAL season tips off in Dakar on March 11.

This Saturday marks the start of the BAL season, as AS Douanes host ABC Fighters at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Before the season gets underway, here is everything you need to know about the league as it enters its third year.

What is the BAL?

Basketball Africa League is a joint venture between the NBA and FIBA, as the game continues to grow on a global stage.

The league features 12 teams from across the continent, competing over a three-month span to be crowned BAL champion.

Out of those 12 teams, the champions of domestic leagues in Angola, Egypt, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia automatically qualified for competition, while the remaining seven bids were determined through the FIBA-run Road to BAL Qualifiers held from Oct. 12 to Nov. 22.

Until this point, 16 African nations have been represented at the BAL, with the total rising to 18 as Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda punched their tickets for the first time.

The teams are split into two conferences: the Nile Conference and the Sahara Conference. Each conference will take part in a 15-game group stage, where each team is scheduled take on the other five squads in their respective conference once.

The Sahara Conference will play their games at Dakar Arena in Senegal’s capital, Diamniadio, from March 11-21. The Nile Conference will commence on April 26 and run through May 6 at Hassan Mostafa Indoor Sports Complex in Cairo, Egypt.

The top four teams from each conference will qualify for the BAL playoffs, a three-round single-elimination tournament held at BK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.

The playoffs and final games will be played from May 21-27.

What teams will take part this season?

The third season of the BAL will include seven returning squads, as the remaining teams take to the tournament for the first time.

The returning teams are headlined by US Monastir. That Tunisian squad has participated in both of the previous seasons, finishing as runner-up in 2021, before returning to win the championship in 2022. Their opponent in the most recent final, Petro de Luanda (Angola), also returns with championship aspirations.

US Monastir celebrates their championship win in May of 2022.

Other returning squads include REG (Rwanda), Cape Town Tigers (South Africa), CFV Beira (Mozambique), SLAC (Guinea), and AS Douanes (Senegal). The Senegalese squad reappears after missing out on last year’s competition.

The newcomers boast the likes of ABC Fighters (Côte d’Ivoire), Kwara Falcons (Nigeria), Stade Malien (Mali), City Oilers (Uganda), and Egypt’s Al Ahly. The Egyptian club emerges after dethroning former BAL Champion, Zamalek, in the Egypt Basketball Super League.

Who should you look out for?

As teams are based from all over the continent, the BAL itself has become an international league. In the Sahara Conference alone, players hail from 13 countries throughout Africa, Europe, and the United States.

Eight players enter with prior NBA G League experience, along with 18 NCAA Division I talents and six NBA Academy prospects joining their ranks. Also playing are 11 former campers from Basketball Without Borders, a global basketball development and community outreach program from around the world, nearly 100 of which have advanced to the NBA.

ABC Fighters are led by coach Liz Mills of Australia, who is returning to the competition after leading AS Salé to the BAL Playoffs during their last campaign. In that run, she became the first woman to coach both a BAL team and a Moroccan men’s team.

One of her most notable players, Don Alex Robinson Jr., is set to make his BAL debut this season.  The former TCU standout made his name in the NCAA for his ability to spread the floor, becoming the school’s all-time assists leader.

Another former NCAA player primed to make waves is the newest addition to AS Douanes, Terrell Stoglin. The guard has been the BAL’s top scorer each of the last two seasons, averaging 30.8 points for an AS Salé squad who saw consecutive first-round exits in the BAL Playoffs.

Zaire Wade, son of legendary NBA guard and BAL ambassador Dwyane Wade, makes the transition from the NBA G League’s Salt Lake City Stars to the Cape Town Tigers.

Returning with champions US Monastir, forward Radhouane Slimane looks to lead the team to continued success in the BAL. The Tunisia native was named to the 2022 All-BAL First Team, as the stretch big poses a threat in the paint and beyond the arc.

As squads from around the continent compete with players from around the globe, who will be crowned 2023 BAL Champions? Tune in this Saturday as the race for the crown begins.

Where can you watch?

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