KIGALI, Rwanda — Saturday’s Basketball Africa League (BAL) final between Egypt’s Al Ahly and Senegal’s AS Douanes in Kigali feels like a moment which Ahly guard Ehab Amin has been preparing for all of his basketball life.
Amin started playing basketball in Alexandria at age 6, and grew up at club Sporting Alexandria, but he first became accustomed to true pressure when playing for the University of Oregon Ducks.
Amin  told ESPN, when asked if he had played in any games that could compare to the BAL final: “A couple of games come to mind. One was definitely the Sweet 16 game in the NCAA Championship against Virginia [in 2019]. That was a memorable game for me.
“Also, I think the game against Tunisia in the World Cup qualifiers at home in Egypt that made us qualify for the World Cup. That was a very special one – not quite as big in terms of the media coverage and the tournament and all that, but definitely a very special game for me, these two.
“Saturday’s game is going to be a special one and hopefully we’ll be on the winning side.”
Amin subsequently returned to Sporting Alexandria after his college career, but it did not take long for Cairo giants Ahly and Zamalek [who won the first edition of the BAL] to pursue him. Ultimately, he joined Ahly, who had to break the Egyptian transfer record, paying 2,750,000 EGP (then around $165,000) to sign him as per KingFut.
Having previously been an Egyptian champion in 2013 with Sporting Alexandria, he has repeated the feat in 2022 and again this year with Ahly. Over time, he has grown accustomed to dealing with high expectations.
“Sometimes, it is [difficult to carry], but it is what it is. I mean, when you’re a decent player, you have to carry those expectations with you. Sometimes, it’s a pro and sometimes, it’s a con, but you’ve got to carry it with you and sometimes, it’s a blessing. You’ve just got to deal with it when it’s not,” Amin said.
“I’m thankful for that and I always like playing under pressure in the big moments. That’s what big players strive for – the big moments, the big tournaments, the big games, big possessions. That’s what I think differentiates good players from average players.”
READ: Everything you need to know about BAL 2023
Once again, there is pressure on Ahly and Amin’s backs as they head into the BAL final as favourites. They would have been underdogs had they played Angola’s Petro de Luanda as expected, but Petro were knocked out by Douanes in the semi-finals, meaning that Ahly’s pre-match preparation had to change.
By now, Amin knows better than to take victory for granted, especially as he himself will have to face the fearsome backcourt duo of Jean-Jacques Boissy and Chris Crawford, as well as fellow guard Alkaly Ndour.
Speaking to ESPN, Boissy said: “I think what we need to be focused on is to box out the bigs… They have a great team actually, because the point guards can move; they’ve got great experience. [Nuni] Omot is having a great tournament right now, so there’s a lot to figure out right now, but we’re going to stick to our game.”
AS Douanes stun Petro to reach the BAL final
AS Douanes become the first Senegalese side to reach the BAL final with a narrow win over Petro de Luanda.
Amin, who has played against Senegal internationals Boissy and Ndour for the Egyptian national team, is well aware of the threat posed by them.
“Basketball-wise, definitely, [playing Douanes rather than Petro affects preparation], but mentally, I think it’s the same. It’s a championship game. Obviously, since we’ve got here for the final, it was win or go home, so there’s no second chance – it’s not like a playoff series. We knew the importance of every game,” Amin said.
“Definitely, they’ve got a lot of guards. The three starting guards for them are really good, really athletic, really fast… It’s just going to be different for us. We’re a very deep team. Our depth has been very good for us lately. Corey Webster coming off the bench shows how much depth we’ve got. We’ve got Amr Gendy coming off the bench, we’ve got Seif Samir.
“Our starting point guard, Michael [Thompson] – a lot of teams have been trying to pressure him, but he’s a very smart veteran player, so I think he’s going to be fine.
“I’ve played against these two Senegalese guards a lot, because Senegal was with us in the last World Cup qualifiers… I respect them a lot. It’s going to be a very competitive game obviously.”
The final tips off at 6pm local time [12 noon ET] at the Bank of Kigali Arena. Although Ahly were African champions in 2016, this is their shot at a first continental title since the NBA partnered with FIBA to create the BAL.
Amin said: “I think when we started the year back in August, as a team, that was our number one goal… We’ve had a very long season, but I think that was our main goal, our number one focus since the start.
“I think everything we did this year from eating right to weightlifting to stretching to practicing every single day, all that – everything was on a tunnel vision.
“We’ve still got to show up, show out, play to our best and execute our gameplan. There’s no better stage for the BAL on Saturday.”
The BAL airs on ESPN’s channels in Africa.