It was befitting the 2019 Tema Community Basketball League Most Valuable Player Award Winner stole the ball near mid court, raced off and slammed the ball home in the closing seconds of Game 2 of the League Finals. The winner virtually iced the game and series by converting two free throws not long after and lead his team to a second league title in a row.
A few years before, very few would have predicted seeing this sharp rise from an okay guy to a flat out dominant Guard who deserves every one of the several accolades he has garnered over the years.
In a marquee matchup played last night in basketball’s premium league the NBA, the efforts of Brandon Ingram largely went unnoticed. Swept under the enormous carpet of LeBron James 40 point and Zion Williamson’s 29 points performances was Ingram’s 34 point, seven rebound and four assist display in a 109-118 Pelicans loss to the Lakers.
Perhaps a “late” entrance into the realm of greatness usually reserved for an elite few, Ingram has been consistently overlooked and his star turn production in the 2019-2020 season deserves more praise than he gets from peers and fans alike. While he doesn’t measure 6 foot 9 inches in height like Ingram, have Ingram’s very long wingspan or play the same position, Joel Tham has largely flown under the radar.
None of us are born the same; some are quick starters while others come along slowly and bloom late on. Presbyterian Boys Senior High School’s splendid run to the 2014 Sprite Ball Championship was dominated by Kontor Appiah who went on to win High School Player of the Year Award at the Ghana Basketball Awards at 2015. Early in his tenure at University of Ghana (UG), the team was headlined by backcourt mate Emmanuel Wolff and veterans like Joshua Akai.
This wasn’t surprising considering Wolff hit one of the biggest shots in UG’s rich basketball history to give the team a 45-44 win over arch rival Accra Technical University (ATU) for the first of four straight UPAC titles. Akai played a role in that win as he played a supporting role in the controversial sequence that put the ball in UG’s hands with the game time all but up. But in the latter part of his UG stay, Tham came into his own and became the focal point for UG’s success.
A physical transformation was the first thing to catch the eye; long gone was the wiry frame Tham had before turning into a strong bodied Guard who was tough to get past and push around. Improved technique, tighter handles and a no fear mentality to attack everything (trophies be it individual and team) and every opponent in front of him put Tham on the ascent.
By the time he was done with schooling at Ghana’s premier University, Tham had arrived in a big way by winning MVP Awards in his final couple of years at the UPAC which is widely considered Ghana’s biggest tournament at the University level.
In both years, he was the linchpin; the Guerillas rode on to complete a super quartet of wins. Sandwiched between those four UPAC titles were two All Africa University Games Gold Medals in South Africa and Ethiopia with an MVP Award in the latter tournament, Dalex Swift Hoops Tournament Gold Medal, two GUSA Gold Medals in Winneba and Tamale. A bevy of individual awards from UG ranging from Most Discipline Athlete, Outstanding Male Athlete and Best Sportsman Award from the Vice Chancellor were fetched along the way.
Proving to be the man in school is cool but to be really considered an elite player in the Ghanaian circles, an individual must replicate the same form or even better at the league level. The best league and arguably second best league in the nation have felt the magic of Tham over the past two years. As part of Accra League outfit Adenta Leopards and Nungua Coldstore in the Tema League, Tham has risen to the top of the pile by playing in the Finals Series in both leagues and starring in them.
While he fell short of winning the Accra League for Adenta’s first league title (1-2) in the series, he made it up by bossing his way to a second Tema League trophy. With an All Star Game appearance to boot, it is clear Joel Tham is the best at his position in Ghana and there is very little or no disputing the fact. Should the Ghana Basketball Awards finally come off later this year after an extensive absence, Tham would be a worthy recipient of the holy grail no doubt.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter