A trio of Ghanaian basketball players, Amida Brimah, Ben Bentil and Ernest Aflakpui will feature in this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I basketball tournament which commences Thursday March 17.
The tournament dubbed “March Madness” is one of the most famous sporting competitions in the U.S. and will have 68 Universities or Colleges compete for a shot at winning the national title.
This year’s edition will also be the first time multiple players from the West African nation will participate in the competition.
With a budding basketball program, Ghana has in recent years churned out players who ply their trade in the country and abroad. However, it is yet to turn these positives into success at the national level where the country’s male team has no place on the world rankings.
Amida Brimah Center
Tallest of the trio at 7 feet, heads into his second tournament following University of Connecticut’s (UCONN) failure to make the list last season despite having won the national title a year before. In his third season with the Huskies, Amida is regarded as a top defender with supreme shot blocking abilities. His blocking averages of 2.8 per game translate to 59 blocks in 29 games played this season despite missing 11 games due to a finger injury he sustained in December. Brimah won the national title in 2014 spurred by Shabazz Napier’s note worthy performances. The paint prowler has come a long way in his development from a raw talent sparingly used into an elite defender with a growing offensive game. Brimah’s experience and swatting tendencies should come in handy as the Huskies embark on a quest for what will be a third title in six years. UCONN plays Colorado on Thursday at 17:30 GMT.
Ben Bentil Small Forward/Power Forward
The 20 year old’s name is nice and simple to get your head around but 6 foot 8 inch combo Forward’s rise to national recognition has been anything but nice and simple. Having averaged 6.4 points in 34 games last season, Bentil has upped his averages across board to be a fixture in several NBA Mock Drafts. He is ranked 46 by nbadraft.net in its rankings ahead of the tournament. Thanks to an improved jumper, Bentil, who emigrated to the U.S. at age 15, is the leading scorer in the Big East Conference this season with 21.2 points per game. He is rebounding and blocking more shots (7.8 and 1.1) this season than he did last year (4.9 and 0.4) respectively. With highly rated prospect Kris Dunn, Ben is on course to create history by becoming the first Ghanaian to play in the NBA. A good showing in the NCAA Tournament will make that dream extremely possible. Providence will play University of Southern California on Friday March 18.
Ernest Aflakpui Center
The first year Center’s career has been dogged by knee injuries which has curtailed his development and robbed some of the 6 foot 10inch rookie’s upside. What was supposed to be his rookie year ended five games into the 2014-2015 season when the meniscus in his right knee tore and required surgery. His return to the hardwood has not be all smooth sailing as recurring knee issues have bothered him all year. In 17 games played this season, Aflakpui is averaging just 1.8 points and 2.1 rebounds for Temple University. If there is any place for a player to show off his skills, the tournament is the ideal place to start and an unlikely deep run will up the stakes of any notable performer including the 235 pound front man. The Owls play Iowa on Friday March 18.