Petro de Luanda coach Jose Neto has a mission to de-age Angolan basketball

Angola is an African basketball giant, and Petro de Luanda is the country's best team. But they're mostly veterans, to put it nicely, and Petro coach Jose Neto hopes to bring the team's average age down. Way down.

Petro finished third at the inaugural Basketball Africa League last year, and are well placed for a run to the final next week in Kigali, Rwanda. They're incredibly experienced, but the core of veterans will soon run out of time, leaving the team floundering.

Brazilian coach Neto hopes the players aged 30 and above will inspire the youngsters to pick up the baton for Angolan basketball. Until now, Petro and Angola have relied heavily on veterans, but a new generation will soon be tasked with matching the success of the golden era.

Olimpio Cipriano (40) is Petro's oldest player, followed by former Toronto Raptor Carlos Morais and Leonel Paulo (36), Valdelicio Joaquim (32), Jone Pedro (31), and Yanick Moreira (30). All of their veterans are Angolan.

The only Angolan players in the squad under 25 are Angelo Alexandre, Aboubacar Gakou and Childe Dundão, although they are complemented by 24-year-old import Anderson Correia (Cape Verde) and BAL Elevate teenager Thierry Darlan (Central African Republic).

"I think Angola needs to put the focus on what they want [in future]. I think sometimes, they keep thinking about what happened years ago, so now, they need to work with a new generation," Neto told ESPN.

"I think Angola had great players and, of course, a lot of great players now like Carlos, Olímpio and Leo can help the new generation. This is what we are doing in Petro. These great players help the new players - the young players that can help us ahead."

Neto, who is also the head coach of the Brazil women's national team, believes there are similarities between the job at hand for him there and the overhaul that is needed to take Angola back to the top of African men's basketball.

He said: "I think you can rebuild the [Angolan] national team too. It's like in Brazil. Brazil, when I got the women's national team, had a lot of great players like Érika de Souza, Clarissa dos Santos and Damiris [Dantas].

"They are good players but now we insert new, young players and they can help them to be better and renew the team. I think in Angola, it's the same. These great players -- old players -- can help."

Neto took over at Petro ahead of last year's BAL, which produced some bright moments, but ended in a disappointing semi-final defeat to Zamalek.

Morais told ESPN that the players had not yet adjusted to Neto's methods at the time: "We had a new coaching staff and the way he [Neto] was trying to make us play was hard for us to follow at the time, but now, I think we're on the same page."

Elaborating on Morais' comment, Neto said: "When you need to change the behaviour, you need to change the mindset first. It's not easy to change the mindset. I think the first year we had some difficulties, because we changed the mentality and the mindset of a team that had won a lot of things before.

"You need to convince the team [to change] and make them believe in you. With some stars, the first months are very difficult. When I arrived, I came with my physical conditioner (Diego Falcão), who worked with me for 15 years. We wanted to change this mindset - the physical mentality [and] tactical [too].

"It's very difficult to change in a few months. Now, I think they understand better what we need to win. We need not just to play good, but to play good always. For this consistency, we need to practice like a game. I think they understand better now.

"Physically, specifically, to play basketball these days, we need to play hard, strong and with intensity every time. It's impossible to play like this for 40 minutes with only one player [on top of his game].

"I believe that the winners of the tournament is the better team. It's not just whoever has good players, but a good team with chemistry. I think [our] relationships are better this year than last year."

Although they were edged out again by Zamalek in the Nile Conference in April, Petro won all four of their other fixtures and looked an improved side. Zamalek forward/center Anas Mahmoud went as far as to say that he expects his team to face Petro in the final this year on May 28 in Kigali.

The White Knights from Cairo are not, however, the only team that Neto is concerned about when asked who he expects to challenge Petro for the title.

He added: "The [knockout] system of the competition -- we can never relax, because each game, it's important to give one step more. We need to be prepared for all teams.

"I believe Zamalek, US Monastir, REG [Rwanda Energy Group]. I think AS Salé can also be strong. I think these teams are the most dangerous. I think these teams, with Petro, maybe can win the tournament."

READ: Everything you need to know about the BAL 2022

According to the 51-year-old, the top teams in the BAL can go toe-to-toe with any team from Brazil's Novo Basquete Brasil (NBB), bar Intercontinental Cup champions Flamengo.

He explained: "It's different styles. I think here [in Africa], it's more physical. I think, in Brazil, it's more tactical and technical than in Africa, but here, I think the good teams here in the BAL can play and try to win the tournament in the NBB.

"I think Flamengo is a good team and has good players too, but other teams are the same level that we can see here in a good team in Africa."

Petro will face Morocco's AS Salé, whom they beat twice at last year's BAL in two pulsating encounters, once again in the quarterfinals in the opening playoffs fixture on May 21 in Kigali.

The winner will play either hosts REG or Cameroon's Forces Armées et Police Basketball (FAP) in the semifinals four days later.

The BAL airs on ESPN in Africa, and on ESPN+ and ESPNNews in the US.