A whirlwind was set to tirade through Ghana’s basketball annals at the biggest platform of all- the Sprite Ball Championship. The 2016 Sprite Ball Championship which happened to be the tenth edition, had all the bearings of a tournament primed to make the next step; getting people talking about basketball. In a matter of days, not weeks nor months like all those Ghanaian initiatives that take ages before manifesting on the ground, the Rite Sports Limited event got people talking hoops after just three days. More gratifying was the support people showed to discard the mounted workload contingent on the well celebrated festive holidays. Not so far reaching advertising principles spells out unique selling possessive commodities will sell best on the market basically because they have something unique.
The Sprite Ball Championship over the years has corralled such uniqueness in past editions where seemingly endless tales of unique prospects soaring above limited expectations to create everlasting instances. Picture T.I.Ahmediyya Senior High beating former champions Aggrey Memorial School to the title in their debut appearance, Christopher Appiah’s one man led Bompeh Senior High charge to last year’s semi-final. How about St.Thomas Aquinas’ Ashietey Ollenu’s exploits in carrying his team past G.S.T.S. and Aggrey Memorial’s male team. But no school went into the championship with a more appealing prospect than the infamous Accra Academy. The Kaneshie-based school, after many years of missing out on basketball’s ultimate diadem made a long awaited return that had many past and current students blushing with that unique swagger the “Bl33eooo Boys” have.
Fast forward 72 hours after touching base at their University of Ghana camp base and Accra Academy were facing a humiliating exit in the first round. A high profile school getting bundled out in the preliminary stage of the competition would hardly cause a flinch not when Adisadel College and reigning champions St. Augustine’s College have stuttered at the first hurdle in previous editions. BUT failing to register a single win and double figure scores in any of the games played, highlighted a bigger drop off none present could have ever fathomed.
In the opening game against Koforidua Secondary Technical School (K.S.T.S.), they were greeted with an 1-18 beat down. A closer look at the game reveals “Accra Aca” made a half basket courtesy a free throw. Disappointment was never far off as Mfantsipim School handed them a 32-4 mauling in the second game as Mawuli Senior High delivered the knockout punch with a 16-7 win. However, the discouraging results only highlighted some issues that had a hand in the no-show performance. Ably assisted by assistant coach Simon, head coach Curlsbonny Joshua Owusu could be seen so many times with hands on hips, mouth opened and eyes strained towards the oblique future during games as his side got peppered to submission.
Accra Academy’s woeful performance was simply due to a gaping chasm between the school and the rest of the field. Unfortunately, Accra Aca was pitted in Group A-the toughest group with four time champion Mfantsipim School, Volta Region champions Mawuli and former silver medalist, K.S.T.S. Appearing in the championship after a long absence, Accra Aca has clearly lost touch with the current level of competition. In countless instances, players were undone technically as they were consistently beaten in one-on-one situations, failed to communicate on defense and as surprising as this will sound, they did not get the nuances of basketball. The reason for this lacuna in competition is down to poor recruiting from the school.
At this level, recruiting players on scholarships is the foundation for building a competitive team as has been done by group opponents Mfantsipim and K.S.T.S. Across the Atlantic, recruiting key players plays a fundamental role in determining the success of the team. Renowned hoops programs in Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas universities are multiple winners of the National College Athletic Association title based on their excellent recruitment system where Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Davis have been cornerstones.
Curlsbonny who doubles as head coach of Accra Wesley Girls Senior High wove magic as he led the debutants to the finals against Aggrey Memorial only to lose, underlines this fact. For instance Accra Wesley Girls had massive help from fans MVP Ruth Atibila to place second.
Poor investment is another key factor for Accra Academy’s legendary shocking performance in the Sprite Ball Championship. Accra Academy does not have a basketball court and the absence of the fundamental amenity can never be underestimated as a major decider for Accra Academy’s fate. The famous school that has produced many outstanding individuals in the country and beyond, has no standardized basketball court. What exists in the school is nothing but a patch of flattened sand that students use for pickup games and free throw shooting. It must be noted that Mfantsipim School plus other major profile schools also lack “proper” courts. However, many schools do not use this as an excuse as they have surmounted this hurdle to perform admirably in the tournament. For instance, Mfantsipim School camped in Dodowa for several days on internationally modeled basketball courts prior to the national games.
The results, a second place finish.
All these factors go beyond the coach’s influence; the winningest coach in the world’s best league-the NBA- Phil Jackson will struggle to carve out a win for Accra Academy. But like most sporting disciplines the world over, everything stops at the coach’s door.