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May 13, 2022

BAL quarterfinals is anybody's game says top rim protector Obekpa

SLAC’s center Chris Obekpa believes that being underdogs is the reason the Guinean champions shocked many and reached the 2022 Basketball Africa League (BAL) playoffs.

And their BAL schedule has been anything but easy.

First, they marked their BAL debut with an 85-70 victory over Sahara Conference hosts Dakar Université Club.

After that resounding victory, they lost to against US Monastir, Rwanda Energy Group (REG) and AS Salé, but a win against Ferroviario da Beira ensured SLAC a place in the post-season in Kigali.

Next, Obekpa and Co will go up against no less than reigning champions Zamalek in BAL quarterfinals next week.

DAKAR, SENEGAL - MARCH 8: Christopher Ewaoche Obekpa #4 of the Seydou Legacy Athlétique Club dribbles the ball during the game against the Union Sportive Monastirienne on March 8, 2022 at the Dakar Arena. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Pape Emir/NBAE via Getty Images)

And although Obekpa acknowledges Zamalek’s potential, he admits that being outsiders isn’t a bad position to be in.

“I like being the underdog. It gives me extra energy and motivation,” Obekpa revealed in a chat with the bal.nba.com.

“We are playing the number one team Zamalek. You win or go home. You go there, leave it all out there; give your best and live with the results. It’s that simple.”

The 6-foot-9 center says he can’t wait to go up against his Nigerian national team captain Ike Diogu.

“It’s going to be fun to face him. I have been playing alongside Ike over the past few years on the national team, now it’s a BAL business. Both of us are looking forward to that game.”

“I have been following them. [Zamalek] It’s just like every other good team. You prepare, you watch film, then we’ll see what happens.”

DAKAR, SENEGAL - MARCH 9: Christopher Ewaoche Obekpa #4 of the Seydou Legacy Athlétique Club grabs the rebound during the game against the Rwanda Energy Group on March 9, 2022 at the Dakar Arena. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Page Emir/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the former G League player with Santa Cruz Warriors there is only one way for SLAC to continue their BAL journey. “[In Dakar] Everybody didn’t think we were going to make it. That was extra motivation for us and we took it. It was our first time [in the BAL], and we thought that we had to give our all, and that’s what we did.”

“That’s the recipe for us in the [BAL] playoffs. We need to give our all.”

The winners of the four quarterfinals advance to the semi-finals while the four losing teams end their 2022 BAL journey.”  

DAKAR, SENEGAL - MARCH 5: Adama Diakhite #28 of the Dakar Université Club drives to the basket during the game against the Seydou Legacy Athlétique Club on March 5, 2022 at the Dakar Arena. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Pape Emir/NBAE via Getty Images)

Obekpa made his BAL debut in a remarkable fashion.

The 28-year-old not only recorded two double-doubles in five games, but he dominated the paint with authority.

The former St. Joh’s University star currently averages a tournament-high 4.6 blocks per game. 

“That’s just the way I play. I love playing aggressive and protect the rim,” said the defensive-minded player.

DAKAR, SENEGAL - MARCH 9: Anthony Rashad Walker #41 of the Rwanda Energy Group handles the ball during the game against the Seydou Legacy Athlétique Club on March 9, 2022 at the Dakar Arena. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Page Emir/NBAE via Getty Images)

When asked about his BAL experience so far, Obekpa detailed what the competition means to him: “I grew up in Nigeria. I understand how basketball in Africa is. Something like the BAL is great. I support it any day, any time. I like the way it has been growing so far in its second year.”

“I appreciate the BAL for creating this platform in Africa for serious basketball. That alone is extra motivation for every player on the continent.”

Obekpa has played in Turkey, Lebanon, New Zealand and USA.

DAKAR, SENEGAL - MARCH 5: Christopher Ewaoche Obekpa #4 and Marcus Christopher Crawford #2 of the Seydou Legacy Athlétique Club talk during the game against the Dakar Université Club on March 5, 2022 at the Dakar Arena. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Juilen Bacot/NBAE via Getty Images)

And after his outstanding performance in the Sahara Conference in March he got an offer to return to North America. Not to the NBA yet – “that dream is still alive” – he says, but to Canada. Once his BAL season is over with SLAC, Obekpa will join the Newfoundlanders Growlers of the Canadian Elite Basketball League.