For several years, the Junior Ball-a basketball competition organized by Rite Sports Limited for Junior High School students- served as the main feeder to the grand Sprite Ball Championship. Sprite Ball is the spring board for prodigious talents discovered at the Junior Ball to be launched into the spotlight and gain the temperament and experience to compete at the tertiary level. Several Sprite Ball alumni have made it to the tertiary level and excelled in various competitions.
However, the preparatory stage for the Sprite Ball has been in absentia for half a dozen years and counting. The Junior Ball headlined for a long period by Nestle Ghana, gave youngsters the chance to showcase their skill and pick up traits that served them well at the Sprite Ball.
A noticeable drop in quality in turn affected Sprite Ball as a result but the fall of the Junior Ball has given rise to youth based programs run by young individuals whose enthusiasm for the sport runs deep. Alexander Obeng Takyi, Mohammed Tahir, Benjamin Sarpong, Hashim Brimah, Edwin Haizel Junior easily come to mind with regard to the aforementioned.
Basketball youth programs products including Cape Coast Hoops participated in the Junior Ball but in the absence of the Junior High School, Youth program products have dominated the High School landscape in recent years.St. Augustine’s College’s first ever Sprite Ball title won in January 2016 was headlined by Dennis Dugbennu who was named Most Valuable Player of the Tournament.
However, key to Augustine’s win over arch rival Mfantsipim was Guard Raymond Affram who is a product of the Galaxy Basketball Academy. Other Programs in Ghana’s capital region, Accra have contributed to the immense success of several schools in the Sprite Ball Championship and the most prominent among them is DUNK-Developing Unity Nurturing Knowledge. The nongovernmental program served as the backbone to Presbyterian Senior High School’s (PRESEC-Osu) shock run in the 2018 Sprite Ball.
PRESEC Osu topped the Boys Division thanks to DUNK products Joel Kaboayere, Prince Lumorvi and Emmanuel Ojuku Awumiwe. PRESEC Osu’s win was the first by a Greater Accra school in the Boys Division since Armed Forces Senior High School won the title in 2009 also at the expense of Mfantsipim. West Africa Senior High School Point Guard Karim Minai powered his school’s silver and bronze medals in the 2019 and 2020 Champions respectively. The program has produced its fair share of talented players in the Girls Division including Mamata Yussif and Ruth Atibila who were key in Accra Wesley Girls High School two finals appearance in three years.
Youth Empowerment Through Sports (YETS Foundation) has emerged as a leading name in producing basketball talents. The foundation located at Ahwiankanta almost single handedly powered St. Louis Senior High School’s resurgence in the Sprite Ball Championship. Prior to competing in the 2019 edition, St. Louis had missed the competition for seven years; in back to back years, the school has placed fourth and second. Chiefs Basketball Academy product Fati Adams was pivotal in St. Louis’ run when the school was just a free throw away from forcing overtime and putting themselves in line to win the Championship.
The electrifying Adams has a fascinating back story as an abandoned child who got by as a street vendor until her introduction to basketball through Chiefs Academy. Adams rose to prominence in the 2020 Sprite Ball after a game MVP performance against PRESEC Osu in the semifinal. Adams made free throws and scored six points in clutch time to give St. Louis a 26-18 double overtime win to progress to the final.
In the aftermath of Opoku Ware School’s win in 2016, Nicholas Essien has carried the torch leading Opoku Ware to third place in the 2019 Championship and a quarterfinal exit at the hands of eventual winners Keta Business College (KETABUSCO). Point Guard Essien is a product from the Kumasi based YETS Foundation.
Youth development is crucial to the success and of every sport and programs run along these lines has proven over the years to be an integral part of Ghana’s biggest youth tournament. Extensive funding into training of Coaches, provision of top facilities and coaching more youth is needed to enhance youth basketball experience throughout Ghana.
The future of basketball in Ghana depends on youth basketball programs and need to be enhanced.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter