Watch them grow ends the saying above. The statement is referenced every time there is talk of youth development in the mix. Many reading this piece in a football dominant country will definitely have a zip about the very essence of what I am about to pen down albeit digitally only this piece is on the game of hoops.
Little fuss is made during junior competitions in basketball. The age group competitions namely the FIBA U-17 and U-19 or the Junior World Championships barely makes the headlines. For instance, how many people are privy to know the fourth edition of the U-17 Championship will be played between June 23 and July 3? Or know the draw for the Championship is just over 24 hours away from getting started. The U.S. basketball’s all conquering nation strangely follow suits as the conveyor belt of abundant talent the nation produces go unnoticed in such competitions unless those organized in the country.
The Jordan Brand Classic and McDonalds Championship are heralded competitions in the States. These competitions among others have produced note worthy names like LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis and DeMar DeRozan. In a fledgling basketball nation like Ghana, competitions are hard to come by; that means only a handful of the nation’s basketball gems have their rough edges smoothened through rigorous tests. On the other hand the very few competitions make up for competitive tournaments that are littered with talented players.
Over the years, one competition has outdone all of it’s’ contemporaries to be acknowledged as the biggest basketball competition in the West African nation. The Sprite Ball Championship attracts thousand upon thousand high school students annually to celebrate basketball sparkle in the young hands of teenagers. Aside the euphoria it creates and bragging rights participating schools wield with each victory, the Championship has for the past nine years, been the bedrock of getting players.
Covering the 2016 Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges (UPAC) Basketball Championship has been a thrill on many fronts including personal ones since prior to the Championship, I had yet to go any further north of Kumasi. However, Zone B and Zone C legs of the Championship held in Tamale and Sunyani plus Zone A which was held in Accra, gave me the opportunity to notice a trend. At every game spot there would be the unmistakable figures of Sprite Ball alumni.
Starting with Zone A games played in the capital Accra, Ho Polytechnic’s shock 19-15 win over celebrated Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) had Sprite Ball written all over it. Ho Polytechnic was led by Sedem Tettevi, captain of Keta Senior High School’s triumphant team in the 2014 edition.
For GIMPA, there was McMartey Lawer and Kwame Boamah Djan who paced the game 11 rebounds, 10 points and three blocks. Both men, then boys, played in the 2007 edition for Accra Academy and St. Augustine’s College respectively with Boamah falling short of winning the trophy with his team.
A week prior to tip off, warm up games organized had former Ghana Secondary Technical School captain Sydney Larbie represent Central University College. The Point guard, who last played in the high school competition in 2013 won the three point shooting contest.
A trip to the north built upon this trend as Abdou Fatau led University of Development Studies to claim a quarter final spot in the Championship just the same way he led Tamale Senior High School in the 2012 Sprite Ball Championship. Note: Fatau was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
In the Brong-Ahafo capital Sunyani, Robert Fiifi Brew started for University of Energy and Natural Resources unbeaten run to qualify out of Zone C to the quarter finals by putting in wonderful performances on his way to being named Most Valuable Player of the mini tournament.
The Point Guard, like Fatau featured in Sprite Ball 2013 for Koforidua Secondary Technical School (K.S.T.S.) where the eastern side placed second behind winners Mfantsipim School.
Whilst Brew stood high on the podium celebrating the latest addition to his trophy case, Sunyani Polytechnic’s Patrick Opoku Asare was left feeling dejected following his sides less than impressive showing in the games. Having played in all two previous editions of the UPAC Championship, Sunyani Polytechnic was expected to be a serious contender for the zonal title but failed to impress particularly against Brew’s UENR.
Asare was the sole bright spot on the team which secured just a win against whipping boys Sunyani Nurses Training College. Asare played for Opoku Ware in the 2013 edition of the Championship.
As the UPAC train continues to roll into several cities in Ghana with Kumasi and Cape-Coast next on the schedule before a two week stint in Accra at Accra Polytechnic and University of Ghana, the trend will continue. Other notable alumni including University of Ghana’s Emmanuel Wolffe and Mishael Jamani formerly of K.S.T.S. and Mfantsipim will be on display in the coming weeks.