Nigeria’s Ezeli in NBA Finals

Posted June 1st, 2015 at 3:31 pm (UTC-4)
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Festus Ezeli dunks in a playoff game against the Houston Rockets. Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Festus Ezeli dunks in a playoff game against the Houston Rockets. Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors will play their first National Basketball Association Finals game in over 40 years on Thursday night in Oakland, California.

While their historic playoff run has been headlined by stars such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut, back-up center Festus Ezeli, of Benin City, Nigeria, has quietly been putting together a solid postseason of his own.

Festus averaged only 11 minutes a game during the regular season and did not see much playing time in the first two rounds of the playoffs against New Orleans and Memphis.

That changed in the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets. He averaged nearly 16 minutes a game, peaking in the series winning game five, when he played 28 minutes, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds as the Warriors advanced to the Finals with a 104-90 victory. The Warriors reserve also scored 10 points while playing 18 minutes in Golden State’s 115-80 romp over Houston in game three.

Festus Ezeli and the Golden State Warriors are bidding for the club's first NBA championship since 1975. Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Festus Ezeli and the Golden State Warriors are bidding for their first NBA championship since 1975. Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ezeli’s NBA success would have come as a shock to anyone who knew him 10 years ago. He lived in Benin City, Nigeria, until the age of 14, when he was sent to live with his uncle in the United States.

While his parents wanted him to become a doctor, Ezeli found a different passion as a result of his move: basketball. Having never played before, it took a while before Festus had the rules of the game down, but once he figured them out, his 6 ft. 11 in. (2.11 meters) frame and athletic ability took care of the rest.

His performance in front of scouts at the 2007 Reebok All-America camp earned him a scholarship to Vanderbilt University, where he played all four years of college while majoring in economics. Late in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft, Golden State selected Ezeli and he’s been a reliable back-up since. Maybe his postseason performance will get him off the bench for good.

Festus Ezeli dunks over Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. Photo:  Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Festus Ezeli dunks over Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Festus figures to be an important part of the Warriors team that will take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven game NBA Finals.

Ezeli and starting center Andrew Bogut, who is from Australia, will have to use their size to contain Cleveland’s Russian center Timofey Mozgov, who stands 7 ft. 1 in. (2.16 meters) and has averaged nearly 10 points and eight rebounds a game this postseason.

Unfortunately, Ezeli missed practice on Saturday due to an illness and is listed as day to day, but the Warriors are hoping that he’ll be 100% in time for the series opener on Thursday night. If he is, then fans will want to add one more name to their list of players to watch in this star-studded series.

This blog post was written by VOA Intern Jonah Haskell.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Attuquayefio Praised as Pillar of Ghana Football

Posted May 13th, 2015 at 3:35 pm (UTC-4)
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Sonny interviews Coach Attuquayefio in Accra in 2001. Photo: Rod Thomas/VOA

The Sonny Side of Sports remembers one of the pillars of Ghana football, Cecil Jones Attuquayefio, who died May 12th of throat cancer at age 70.

Attuquayefio had a long and distinguished coaching career. I had a chance to interview him in 2001 in the capital, Accra, where he led a squad of locally based Ghanaian players to a 0-0 draw against a heavily favored Nigerian team in a World Cup qualifying match.

In 2000, Attuquayefio guided Accra’s Hearts of Oak club to their first continental title in the African Champions League.

In addition, Attuquayefio was in charge of Benin in 2004 when the country qualified for its first Africa Cup of Nations tournament.

Cecil Jones Attuquayefio

Cecil Jones Attuquayefio

And he was an assistant coach on Ghana’s team when it won Africa’s first Olympic medal in men’s football, a bronze, at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Attuquayefio also represented the Black Stars, the nickname of Ghana’s national team, as a player and won the Nations Cup in 1965.

The current Black Stars captain, Asamoah Gyan, wrote on Twitter that Attuquayefio was a legend, a great coach and an inspirer who handed him his first chance. Gyan played under Attuquayefio in 2003 with Accra’s Liberty Professionals club.

Ghana_FAThe Ghana Football Association also paid tribute to the man who served as a vice-president of the GFA in the 1980s and 1990s.

A GFA statement said: “Attuquayefio’s contribution to football in our country touched the lives of many people not only in Ghana, but also in many countries in Africa. The GFA is immensely hurt by the loss of such a talented footballer, coach and administrator who shaped the lives and careers of many Ghanaian footballers.”

 

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Brightfield Shadi Shines As Special Olympics Messenger

Posted April 27th, 2015 at 12:12 pm (UTC-4)
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Sonny and Bright hold a Special Olympics soccer ball.

Sonny and Bright hold a Special Olympics soccer ball.

When I met Brightfield Shadi at Special Olympics headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., I asked him, “Do you know what the weather report is today? It’s Bright and Sonny!”

Bright smiled and laughed, clearly enjoying a little humor as well as his visit to Washington as one of 12 Special Olympics athletes selected as Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers for the next four years.

Sargent Shriver, who died in 2011 at age 95, was the husband of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics movement for intellectually disabled athletes.

Bright is from Botswana, and like Yours Truly, he enjoys a variety of sports, including soccer, volleyball and track and field.

During a short video interview on the Voice of America’s Africa 54 TV program, the 22-year-old Shadi talked about his new role as a spokesman for Special Olympics.

As we heard Bright say in the interview, he’ll be in Los Angeles in July for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.

Bright and Sonny at Special Olympics headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Bright and Sonny at Special Olympics headquarters in Washington, D.C.

According to Special Olympics, Bright and the other International Global Messengers will serve vital roles in Los Angeles, where they’ll “participate in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, attend and give speeches at various events, cheer on their fellow athletes and interact with honored guests.”

The Honorary Chairs of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games are U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Approximately 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches from 177 countries are expected to attend the big event, which will feature competition in 25 sports throughout the Los Angeles region.

 

 

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

It’s a Capital Challenge for VOA Race Teams!

Posted April 7th, 2015 at 5:08 pm (UTC-4)
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VOA's 2014 Capital Challenge runners

VOA’s 2014 Capital Challenge racers

After a long winter here in Washington, spring is in the air and you can see more than a few runners getting in their miles on the National Mall near our Voice of America headquarters.

Some are running for their own personal health, while others are training for upcoming races. The Washington area has a vibrant racing scene, and many of the competitions raise money for charity.

On May 20th, I’ll be joining 14 of my VOA colleagues for the 34th running of the ACLI Capital Challenge. The three-mile road race in Anacostia Park benefits the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, which provides trained guide dogs and services to blind and visually impaired people.

From left to right: VOA's Eric Phillips, Karin Zeitvogel, Sonny Young and William Scottt after the 2014 race.

From left to right: VOA’s Eric Phillips, Karin Zeitvogel, Sonny Young and William Scottt after the 2014 race.

In addition to many members of the media, the charity race features teams led by Senators, Representatives and other top U.S. government officials.

Race Director Jeff Darman says the event “promotes healthy living in the shadow of the Capitol as many physically fit Washington luminaries set an excellent example on race day each year.”

Dathan Ritzenhein waves the American flag after qualifying for the USA's 2012 Olympic team in the 10,000 meters. Photo: AP

Dathan Ritzenhein waves the American flag after qualifying for the USA’s 2012 Olympic team in the 10,000 meters. Photo: AP

Each year, Darman brings in a celebrity runner to help showcase the race.

This year’s celebrity is Dathan Ritzenhein, a three-time Olympian for the United States who will compete in the Boston Marathon April 20th.

The 32-year-old Ritzenhein will serve as the official Capital Challenge “whistle blower” and start the runners on their way. Then he’ll jump in and run from the back of the pack.

I have no doubts if Dathan puts his mind to it, he’ll catch up to me quickly.

 

 

 

 

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Nothing But Nets, Stephen Curry!

Posted February 27th, 2015 at 7:18 pm (UTC-4)
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President Obama and Stephen Curry at the White House. Photo: Courtesy of Nothing But Nets

President Obama and Stephen Curry at the White House. Photo: Courtesy of Nothing But Nets

Golden State Warriors basketball star Stephen Curry met this week with President Obama at the White House here in Washington, where they discussed the Nothing But Nets anti-malaria campaign.

President Obama, who is a big basketball fan, has described the 26-year-old Curry as the best shooter he’s ever seen, and the Golden State guard is using those skills to help support the fight against malaria in Africa.

For the past three National Basketball Association seasons, Curry has donated three insecticide-treated mosquito nets for every three-point shot he makes during games.

Two years ago, Curry set the NBA record for three-point shots made with 272.

He met with President Obama one day after making five three-point shots, and scoring a game-high 32 points, in Golden State’s 114-107 victory over the host Washington Wizards. Curry talks about his role in preventing malaria in this video.

Stephen Curry is the son of Dell Curry, who also was an excellent shooter and who played in the NBA from 1986 to 2002.

The younger Curry has been active with malaria issues since attending Davidson College in North Carolina.

Stephen Curry celebrates another basket. Photo: AP

Stephen Curry celebrates another basket. Photo: AP

In 2013, he traveled to Tanzania as part of the United Nations Foundation’s campaign and helped distribute 38,000 mosquito nets.

Stephen Curry has captured the attention of many basketball fans in his sixth NBA season.

He was the overall leading vote-getter for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, and he set a record in winning the All-Star weekend’s Three-Point Shooting Contest.

Yes, once again, Curry hit nothing but net.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

AFCON 2015: By The Numbers

Posted February 10th, 2015 at 12:36 pm (UTC-4)
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As far as AFCON tournaments went, this one was as good as any.

Despite instances of fan violence, costly refereeing mistakes and a finale that almost fell short of its promise, this year’s Africa Cup delivered fantastic goals, a colorful audience and most importantly, underdogs.

That fact was reaffirmed by the redemption of a 35-year-old outcast goalkeeper turned national hero, Boubacar Barry, who led the Les Elephants to victory and an end to their drought on the continental stage.

After 3 weeks of uninterrupted action with the finest football in Africa, we look back at some numbers that defined this year’s competition.

$40,000,000

That’s the total cost of hosting the tournament, according to some sources. Equatorial Guinea took on the costs of hosting and organizing following Morocco’s refusal last year to host the tournament citing fears of Ebola. The nation that co-hosted the tournament two years ago with Gabon stepped in and delivered a decent event with only two months’ worth of preparations. Of course, there were some issues…

$150,000

That’s the amount in fines that was imposed on two federations: Equatorial Guinea and Tunisia. Equatorial Guinea got hit with most of that amount, for its inability to control fans in the semifinal game against Ghana. Tunisia got slapped with a $50,000 fine after players went on a rampage following their quarterfinal loss to Equatorial Guinea. The Tunisians were irate about a controversial, late-game penalty that resulted in Equatorial Guinea tying the match in extra time, before going onto win it all. The Tunisian team damaged their stadium locker room.

68 

That’s the total number of goals scored in the tournament, which works out to 2.13 per match. That falls well short of the record 99 goals scored in 2008 when Ghana hosted the tournament, but if spectacular goals get any extra credit then this tournament has surely delivered. Christian Atsu’s wonder strike and South Africa’s Mandla Masango’s looping volley against eventual finalist Ghana take our awards for best tournament goals #1 and #2 respectively.

35

The age of Boubacar “Copa” Barry. The substitute who only came on because the first choice goalkeeper was injured saved two penalties and converted the winning one to become an instant national hero. In a team surrounded by proven goalscorers such as Wilfried Bony, Yaya Toure, and Gervinho, no one expected the sidelined keeper to singlehandedly earn Les Elephants a trophy they’ve desperately sought out for over two decades. (Whether Bony, Toure and Gervinho played up to their full potential is another discusiion altogether of course.)

Here’s how Didier Drogba, one of the finest Cote D’Ivoirian players of his generation, reacted upon Barry’s winning goal:

23

The age of the player voted to be Man of the Tournament: Christian Atsu. The Chelsea winger scored two goals, including the goal of the tournament, to lead Ghana to the finals. If his presence on the national team is any indication, Ghana will definitely get more chances to take the continental cup in the future, if not other trophies. For now, Atsu’s future lies with Everton, for whom he’s playing on loan. Judging by the current performance in the Premiership, they’re probably desperate for his return.

22

The number of penalties taken in the final game. That’s only two short of the record 24 penalties taken in Senegal in 1992 to decide the winner between…you guessed it, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Les Elephants won the shootout 11-10.

4

The number of countries currently in contention to host the 2017 tournament. Libya had been scheduled to host, but that country’s continuing instability has CAF organizers casting around for an alternate host: in the running are Algeria, Egypt, Gabon and Ghana.

We hope you enjoyed our light-sided coverage of AFCON 2015. Thanks to Sonny Young for letting us crash his Sonny Side of Sports blog for a few weeks.

If you have complaints or questions about VOA’s coverage, or if there other sporting events you’d like to see us cover– in Africa or elsewhere– leave a comment and let us know!

Until next time!

Equatorial Guinea African Cup Soccer

Guillaume Soro, the speaker of Ivory Coast’s National Assembly lifts a trophy with team players after winning the African Cup of Nations final match against Ghana in Bata, Equatorial Guinea. (AP)

Teff Teff
Raised in Ethiopia, Teff Teff has played the game for as long as he remembers. He is a huge Manchester United supporter who tries to emulate his heroes the best way he can, on FIFA or at the local park. He is a multimedia producer for the Africa Division at VOA, where he spreads the football gospel to anyone who listens.

Les Elephants Raises AFCON Trophy after Epic Penalty Shootout

Posted February 8th, 2015 at 6:34 pm (UTC-4)
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Ivory Coast’s Max Gradel challenges Ghana’s Harrison Afful during the African Nations Cup final match in Bata. (REUTERS)

In the end, it came down to the giants: The Giants of African Football.

Black Stars and Elephants.

Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire.

And in the end, it was goalkeeper Boubacar Barry and the Orange Men of West Africa who outlasted Ghana through 120 minutes to claim triumph on penalties in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations Sunday, 9-8.

After a tournament that had been tarnished by last minute disorganization, fan violence and accusations of referee malfeasance, Cote D’Ivoire coach Herve Renard led his team to glory and, in a sense, redemption after an embarrassing World Cup showing last summer.

Ivory Coast’s Aurier goes for the ball during the African Nations Cup (AFCON 2015) final match against Ghana in Bata. (REUTERS)

Despite the talents of Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony, Ivory Coast was held goalless through 120 minutes, which led to the nail-biting grind of penalties. After eight equal penalty goals, Barry then stepped up to score the winning penalty kick, just moments after making a save against Ghana goalkeeper Razak Braimah.

Ghana’s Christian Atsu and Asamoah Gyan topped the Black Stars performance for most of the match, but in the end, failed to find victory.

The last time Les Elephants won the Cup was in 1992.

Mike Eckel
Mike Eckel's dreams of being drafted by Man United or FC Barcelona peaked when he was captain of his high school football team, but ended during his short-lived college career. He continues to be an avid player (midfield) however and holds out hope that Jozy Altidore will get his act together for 2018. When not running VOA's football blogs, he writes about Russia, international war crimes, Central Asia corruption and oversees VOA's multimedia collaboration efforts.

Tunisian Football Chief Suspended for AFCON Remarks

Posted February 7th, 2015 at 2:17 pm (UTC-4)
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BATA, Equatorial Guinea _ Tunisian football chief Wade Jary was suspended from all African football events until further notice Friday for his criticism over the refereeing during Tunisia’s quarterfinal loss to Equatorial Guinea.

The Confederation of African Football tournament organizers Jary would be suspended until he submitted a letter of apology, or a letter “with irrefutable, tangible evidence to substantiate claims of CAF’s bias against the Tunisian team.”

Referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn surrounded by security as Tunisia’s players confront him after losing quarterfinal match of 2015 African Cup of Nations against Equatorial Guinea in Bata (REUTERS)

Tunisia was outraged by what it said was poor refereeing during Saturday’s match. Referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn  awarded a penalty at the 90th minute that gave Equatorial Guinea the tying goal the match. Equatorial Guinea eventually scored another goal to bring a 2-1 victory.

After the match, Jary said his team “suffered scandalous injustice from referees.” Tunisian players also damaged some of the stadium locker room, resulting in a $50,000 fine.

CAF had ordered Jary to apologize for his remarks, giving him a deadline of Thursday, but Jary submitted nothing.

CAF organizers also gave the Tunisian Football Federation until March 31 to comply with all the recommendation, or face disqualification from the 2017 Africa Cup.

Meanwhile, tournament organizers also levied a massive $1 million against Morocco for its refusal to host this year’s tournament, and suspended its national team of Morocco from the 2017 and 2019 tournaments.

Morocco had been scheduled to host the 2015 tournament, but asked for a delay, fearing spreading Ebola. CAF organizers refused the request, stripped Morocco of its hosting and gave the tournament to Equatorial Guinea.

The Sonny Side of AFCON – II

Posted February 6th, 2015 at 5:57 pm (UTC-4)
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A Sonny Side of Sports look-back at the violence-filled Ghana-Equatorial Guinea match, and the upcoming final between Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana:

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Hosts Equatorial Guinea Fined for Semifinal Match Violence

Posted February 6th, 2015 at 4:48 pm (UTC-4)
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Equatorial Guinea fans react as a police helicopter hovers above the stand during the African Cup semi-final match against Ghana in Malabo. (REUTERS)

Africa Cup organizers hit hosts Equatorial Guinea with a $100,000 fine Friday for not doing more to control the fan violence that erupted during Ghana’s semifinal trouncing of Equatorial Guinea.

With Ghana leading 2-0 at the half during the match Thursday, home field fans began to get unruly, pelting Ghanian players with bottles and other debris as they left the pitch at halftime.

After Andre Ayew nailed home the Black Stars third goal at the 76th minute, Equatorial Guinea fans began accosting Ghanian fans in the stands, forcing them to take refuge in the section behind one of the goals. The game was delayed for about 30 minutes.

At least 36 people were injured in the fighting, and 14 were hospitalized, one seriously, tournament organizers said. It was the worst violence of the 2015 tournament.

On Friday, the disciplinary committee of the Confederation of African Football announced the $100,000 fine ” for aggressive behavior and being repeat offenders.”

The panel also ordered Equatorial Guinea to play its next match behind closed doors, which would have meant no spectators for the third place tournament match, scheduled for Saturday. But the panel said it would suspend that order “to promote a spirit of fair play and brotherhood.”

Equatorial Guinea had already been once before during the tournament for not controlling unruly fans, during the Jan. 26 match against Gabon.

 

Mike Eckel
Mike Eckel's dreams of being drafted by Man United or FC Barcelona peaked when he was captain of his high school football team, but ended during his short-lived college career. He continues to be an avid player (midfield) however and holds out hope that Jozy Altidore will get his act together for 2018. When not running VOA's football blogs, he writes about Russia, international war crimes, Central Asia corruption and oversees VOA's multimedia collaboration efforts.

About

Sonny Side of Sports is an energetic and action-packed look at both world and African sports, broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet. Since the show’s creation in 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

The Sonny Side of Sports is broadcast Monday through Friday at 1630 and 1830 UTC/GMT. And on Fridays at 1730 UTC/GMT, Sonny has an expanded 30-minute sports show.

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