Is this the end of an era for KTA?

Is this the end of an era for KTA?

MASERU – For so many years, Khubetsoana All-Stars have been the standard bearers of the National Basketball League (NBL).
Over the past decade one strong contender after another has come and gone and all the while KTA All-Stars have been ever-present atop the NBL standings. The names and faces – from Ratšolo Molupe to Sekhoane Moshabesha to Molale Monnapula – have largely remained constant as well and that constancy has translated into an unprecedented run of success in Lesotho’s basketball top-flight for the Khubetsoana ball-club.
Champions in 2014, finalists in 2015 and champions again in 2016, KTA have dominated the NBL and their three titles since 2012 are the most over that span.

It is that steady quality that has come to define the club and it is why last weekend’s NBL semi-final playoffs exit at the hands of Lerotholi Polytechnic was so shocking. It wasn’t just that KTA lost to a Fokothi team that only scraped into the playoffs by finishing fourth in the regular season league standings but the way in which KTA lost.

For a team that has always found a way to win through their experienced, methodical style of play, KTA looked befuddled against a hungrier Lerotholi side on Sunday at Lehakoe to lose 60-52 in Game 2 of the best-of-three semi-final series. That defeat coupled with last Saturday’s 72-65 upset in Game 1 meant KTA lost the series 2-0 and, after falling to Bokamoso South at the same stage last year, this marks the first time KTA will be absent from the NBL finals for two successive years.

That fact by itself raises a simple question: is this the end of an era for KTA?
“Locally, we are still better than any other team,” KTA veteran point guard Molupe insisted when asked about the team’s future prospects.
“We are still confident that we are the deepest team even though we could not win.”

Molupe, one of the club’s captains, is the right person to speak to because he has been at the heart of KTA’s success this past decade and it is unsurprising that he remains bullish. However, one thing was clear from the weekend’s exit to Lerotholi – the KTA needs to reinforce.
Even Molupe admitted as much.

Being experienced in the young man’s game that is the NBL is an advantage over a long season where consistency is valuable but, in win or go home situations like the playoffs, age can be a problem; ultimately KTA were also overwhelmed by Lerotholi because their squad was thinned by players having “life” commitments such as work, for example.

As Molupe put it, “The fact that we have mature players with age and life engagements and employment commitments sabotages us. We ended up going to the playoffs with seven players instead of the full squad of 12 because most of our players had engagements.”
He continued: “In Game 1 we lost the game with a few seconds left (in the game) and we went in to the second match under massive pressure while our opponents were highly motivated and had no pressure. On top of that we used all our energy to fight for that Game 1. So in Game 2 all our energy was drained and we were short of players.”

With their semi-final letdown in mind KTA are already wheeling and dealing to bring in reinforcements.
“We have a new addition (named) Tefo Mosala from Leseli (Tigers) who will help us a lot defensively, meaning we are going to be improved,” Molupe said. “We have another new player, Thabang Glass, with a lot of experience; he played for the national team and in professional leagues in South Africa,” he added.

The signings are needed because there are new powers in local basketball. The other NBL playoffs semi-final features reigning champions Bokamoso South, who are looking to make their third finals in a row, and Lichocha Shooting Rifles who were runners up to Bokamoso last year.
Both clubs have a focus on youth and they employ the exact up-tempo style that has proved too much for KTA All Stars in the playoffs for the past two years.
It is obvious, therefore, that KTA will have to adapt or die in the NBL food-chain and it is clear they need a squad that can compete all year round.
Encouragingly for their supporters, KTA appear willing to face the challenge head on.
“KTA is called All-Stars because all players are stars,” Molupe said.

“Well done to Lerotholi for winning but I believe we will be back to our normal best. We are out of the (NBL) championship but we are preparing for the Swaziland Invitational International Tournament next month.” Unfair or not, KTA’s performance in Swaziland will again be a referendum on where the club stands because the simple truth is that all good things must come to an end someday.

The journey has brought KTA here and now this next chapter of the club’s storied history will reveal if this is indeed the end of an era or if KTA All-Stars can continue to lead the way in Lesotho’s basketball elite.

Nkheli Liphoto

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