Will the Basketball Africa League be the new template for African sport?

Former Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng has long been involved with player development on the continent, and is the BAL's global ambassador. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Five years ago, former Nigerian NBA player agent Ugo Udezue created the African Basketball League, an NBA-style format that aimed to provide a profitable platform for talented players, and a pathway to the NBA.

Launched with fanfare in Lagos in 2015, the league featured six teams from four countries, Nigeria (3 teams), Senegal, Cote d'ivoire and Gabon.

The league was later rebranded as the Continental Basketball League and expanded, but by then it was already on life support as the Nigerian Basketball Federation and others questioned the league's legality.

Despite the overall failure of the dream, Udezue's forward-thinking had planted the seeds for what is now germinating as the Basketball Africa League, which tips off in Senegal on 13 March.

Where the ABL-slash-CBL, could not secure the political might needed to overcome African sporting beaurocracy, the Basketball Africa League has sign off from the game's biggest influencers.

It is a unique, multi-level partnership in the world of sport: The sport's signature league, the NBA, partnering with the world and continental governing body, FIBA, to deliver a world class product to continental federations and teams.

To use a football analogy, this would be similar to UEFA working in tandem with FIFA and CAF to organize a quality Champions League product for the best teams in Africa.

FIBA General Secretary Andreas Zagklis tells ESPN that the partnership is symbiotic: "We have a partnership with FIBA and the NBA, taking advantage of FIBA's long tradition of six decades in the continent and of the NBA's huge operational capacity of excellence in commercializing the league.

"These last twelve months since the announcement has shown how well we can work on another new different project with the NBA."

All of this did not happen overnight. There's a surfeit of African players, and players of African origin, making their marks in the NBA, from Hakeem Olajuwon all the way through to the likes of Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetoukounpo, and executives like Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri.

It was clear that the Mother Continent had talent reserves aplenty, not just to serve as a conveyor belt for the NBA, but, crucially, to develop, grow, feed and sustain its own ecosystem.

Read: Luol Deng named BAL global ambassador

Read: BAL names 12 teams to compete in inaugural season

Well before the NBA upped the ante, players of African origin were already giving back to their content. Ujiri's Giants of Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall's SEED Academy, Luol Deng's work in South Sudan, and Olumide Oyedeji's basketball camps are examples of years, nearly two decades, of hard work.

By the time the NBA started with its Basketball Without Borders program, there was already a launching pad to take off from. The BWB was quickly followed by the NBA Africa Game, which brought the league's African stars home to play for charity.

The Basketball Africa League was just a natural progression. It will be played across 10 weeks and seven countries, starting in Dakar and ending with finals week in Kigali, Rwanda in the last week of May. In between there will be stops in Tunisia, Angola, Nigeria, Morocco, and Egypt.

Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Vice President and BAL Chief Executive, is keen to emphasise that the BAL will not just be a feeding trough for the NBA, but will have a life of its own.

"It is about inspiring the next generation," he told ESPN. "But also from a front office stand point, from coaches stand point.

"There are lots of people in broadcasting now, in marketing, in business development. Some Africans working in the NBA with lot of young players in the video rooms, in player development, in coaching.

"That's why we're excited about the BAL because this is going to generate employment. It is beyond credible entertainment. We're going to build, and we're going to play in world class arenas and there will be job provision.

"Also, economies across the countries will be boosted, tourism will improve because as we play this around and we take six teams from each country, imagine everyone travelling from different countries to come and stay in African countries for a weekend.

"Think about what boost that will have on the economy of cities where we are going to play. It's an incredibly exciting opportunity we have in front of us."

It has already been proven. The ABL/CBL was a good example of what could be achieved, and showed that the fan base exists. Even before it was shut down, Udezue said the league had signed up around 15 sponsors. Players were earning around $5000 and the arena was packed with fans.

Part of the trouble for American sports in Africa has been timezones. Many games are played in the middle of the night, where only the most hardy fans will stay up to watch. Providing an alternative in the right timezone is key to turning that toehold into a proper foothold and big footprint eventually.

Given the NBA's operational capabilities, FIBA's collaboration, the on the ground understanding provided by local federations and their clubs, plus the star power of NBA players, this, surely, has all the ingredients for success.

And when it does succeed, it should reverberate beyond basketball, perhaps providing the template to other sports on how to grow their sport on the continent.