Last season Tšepo Makhupane guided Bashana Ba Heso (BBH) to a thrilling National Basketball League (NBL) title as they beat rivals KTA All Stars on the last play of the fifth and final game of last year’s Finals.
|NBL champions, BBH|
12 months on, Makhupane and BBH are out to defend their crown with the NBL playoffs tipping off this weekend at the Lehakoe Centre.
Thanks to a 57-42 loss to Lichocha Shooting Rifles in the final round of the regular season, BBH go into the playoffs as the second seeds and, therefore, have to face their old foes KTA All Stars once again.
In the other playoff semi, league toppers Lichocha will meet fourth seeds and outsiders Bokamoso South. The winners of the respective best-of-three semi-final series will advance to next month’s best-of-five NBL finals.
Are BBH primed to win back-to-back championships? Can they see off their bitter rivals once more? The MolapoSportsCentre chatted briefly with Makhupane ahead of the much-anticipated start of the NBL playoffs.
You face KTA All Stars in a repeat of last year’s NBL finals. What are your thoughts on the matchup?
Tšepo Makhupane: I expect it to be a very physical and intense match as both BBH and KTA want to defend and reclaim the championship respectively. These are still the biggest teams in the country even though they failed to clinch the top seed.
Are you disappointed at missing out on the top seed and having to play KTA in the playoffs semi-finals instead of Bokamoso South?
Makhupane: It would have been fun to play KTA in the final than playing them in the first round, especially for the marketability of our basketball association. But whichever teams make it to the finals, it will be a good show.
Are BBH favourites for the series against KTA, given that you are defending champions and won the last meeting between the teams in regular season?
Makhupane: I wouldn’t say we are. I still think KTA has the best roster, given their height, skill and experience. So, I would say they are the favourites. At this stage, the regular season means nothing. Last season KTA beat us twice in the regular season, but we won the championship. The season before that we were undefeated in the regular season up until we lost to KTA in the playoff finals.
Do you feel you are heading into the playoffs in peak form or do you feel the team can still improve?
Makhupane: There is always room for improvement, and I do think there are some things we need to work on, but because there is no time we will have to fix them as we go.
Are there any players from KTA you feel you will have to stop in order to win the series?
Makhupane: As I said, they are the best team in my eyes, but there are players like Bokang, Teboho (PG), Molale, and you can’t forget their big guys Teboho and Oscar. You can’t really stop those guys, you can simply try hold them down to as minimal points as possible.
Does playing KTA give added motivation given the rivalry or this is just another game to win on the way to the Finals?
Makhupane: I wouldn't say they give us added motivation, but it’s definitely not just another game. I think for our team, the failure to get the top seed is motivation enough, even though what really matters is the championship, not the top seed.
Do you feel you can go all the way again and win the NBL title?
Makhupane: Most definitely. We have a group of guys that are relatively young and experienced. When these guys are hungry and motivated I believe they beat anybody, any day.
What is the toughest part of coaching in the playoffs?
Makhupane: I’d say the toughest part of coaching generally, but maybe especially in the playoffs, is keeping the team hungry and motivated, especially when we’re not playing well. Players that are hungry and motivated are the easiest ones to coach.