For too long, the basketball community in the UAE has been segregated, with local clubs on one side and expatriates on the other.
Through its involvement in the ongoing Vice President’s Cup, Ball Above All is finally bridging the gap between the two in a move that could open doors in growing the game in the region like never before.
If you’re a regular on the basketball scene here, you’ve already heard of Ball Above All, a concept Belal Abiad brought from Australia to Dubai in 2013. Best described as a community, it offers pick-up sessions, leagues, tournaments and a soon-to-be academy, catering to players of all ages, genders and skill levels.
In fact, the level of competition has gotten so high – specifically in the Men Elite League – that Ball Above All is now playing against professional teams.
“Honestly, the Ball Above All Elite League, the level is fairly high, compared to the UAE in general. When we play these teams, for us it’s a good run,” Abiad said.
“Yeah we’re recreational players, but we’ve had professional experience in the past. We’re older, but we have this experience which we’ve carried forward and is helping us a lot against these teams.”
Their breakthrough came in February’s Dubai International Basketball Championship, where they earned a spot among renowned clubs boasting former NBA players.
The showing in the competition, coupled with the exposure they had already built up, put Ball Above All in consideration for the Vice President’s Cup, which enters the quarter-finals stage today.
When the UAE Basketball Association was struggling to get teams for the tournament, the interest became mutual and suddenly, Ball Above All was rubbing shoulders with local clubs who normally only play amongst themselves or against international sides.
Despite struggling for sponsorship and having had to pay for everything, from entry fees to medicals to uniforms and more, Ball Above All have more than held their own against the five local squads: Al Wasl, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, Sharjah, Al Nasr and Bani Yas.
They’re now in the finals where they’ll place Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club on Wednesday after compiling a 3-2 record in the group stages (one loss was due to a forfeit) and defeating Al Nasr and Al Wasl in the playoffs.
Two of Ball Above All’s players, Mamdou N’Daiye and Amer Al Sati, have impressed so much in the Cup that they’ve garnered attention from the local sides and are in talks to sign on as professionals for the 2018 season.
“That’s a good sign for expat basketball where people can have a team such as Ball Above All and if they’re good enough they might have a chance if they’re born here to play in the UAE league as a professional,” said Abiad.
Whether or not they win the title, Ball Above All have left an impression and shown what a greater synergy between local and expat basketball in the region can yield.
“We’ve proved our level without getting paid,” Abiad said. “So imagine if you’re actually paying professionals and training them to do this. That’ll be huge. You’ll produce big results.
“This would also help the UAE teams here to face better competition and lift their level, so when they travel internationally they can present the UAE in a better light.”
Manager: Rafiq Shabib; Coach: Samer
Assistant coach: Mohamed Ali Guindo
Assistant coach: Aleco Hayek
Players: Aaron Leung, David Negron, Michel Hakim, Aaron Sanchez, Max Klien, Belal Abiad, Mamdou N’Daiye, Amer Al Sati, Pavel Aheunin, Agrey Nyadera, Marcelo Correa, Aristide Mendy, Daniel Leithner, Khaled Ismail, Karim Hachani
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