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Mali's Keita: ''We want to win the African Championship for our fans''
BAMAKO (FIBA U18 African Championship 2018) - Playing in any major basketball tournament usually comes with great pleasure but performing on home court brings in a particular sensation.
Mali’s Mohammed Keita is aware of this and he’s hoping to make the best out of it when his nation hosts the FIBA U18 African Championship from August 24-September 2 in Bamako.
The astonishing power forward can’t wait for the continental competition to begin for him to stun fans with his amazing skills.
The 6ft7in (2.00m) youngster has been gearing up for the continental rendezvous and recently attended the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Africa camp in Johannesburg, South Africa jointly organized by the NBA in collaboration with FIBA.
Being mentored by world-class basketballers is an experience Keita has been appreciating.
"WE WILL BE PLAYING AT HOME, WE WILL HAVE THE SUPPORT FROM OUR FANS AND THE LEAST WE CAN DO IS TO WIN THE TITLE. WE ARE AWARE THAT THERE ARE TOUGH SIDES BUT WE’RE TOUGHER AND WE WANT TO WIN THE AFRICAN CHAMPIONSHIP FOR OUR FANS"
"It’s an extraordinary experience being trained by such experienced NBA coaches and players. I was very happy meeting people like Joel Embiid, Bismarck Biyombo, and Cheick Diallo. At the start, I felt shy but later I was courageous enough to meet the NBA players, ask a lot of questions and learn from them" Keita confided to FIBA.basketball.
Highly rated in his homeland, Keita flew to the Johannesburg camp hoping to clinch the MVP award. Despite failing to meet his benchmark, he capitalized on every minute and every lesson at the camp.
"Coming to the BWB, I wanted to be the MVP but that wasn’t possible. It’s not an issue, what matters most is what I learned and the impact these techniques will have on my career. This was my first camp and there were lots of experienced coaches here and I enjoyed every moment being here and improving my game," the 17-year old said.
Aside from being always optimistic, Keita has been hitting the right notes for his country since he began donning the national colors.
His first international tournament was on the continental level competing at the FIBA U16 African Championship in Mauritius in July 2017.
His imposing physique wasn’t the only thing that made him stand out, he sunk in 4.4 points, and grabbed 6.5 rebounds per contest, contributing to his nation's triumph in the continental jamboree.
The power forward again raised eyebrows at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup in Argentina in June and July, averaging 8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. Though Mali crashed out at the round of 16, Keita picked up new techniques that he’s merged with his play style.
"It was magnificent competing in the World Cup. I discovered new things and I realized that basketball in Europe was way developed than in Africa and it was a great first experience. I loved playing against the other teams especially the USA, they are very rigorous and I tried to get certain aspects of their game to improve on mine. For example, I found how they defend inspiring. I’m trying to bring that into my game as well."
But with his recently acquired techniques after the BWB Africa Camp, Keita’s next target is being crowned African champion for the second time. Keita knows a lot will be expected of them.
Having grown in basketball fervor, the teenager knows their boisterous supporters won’t settle for anything less than a first-place finish.
"WHEN YOU’RE YOUNG THESE ARE THE THINGS YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE, AND I HOPE WE CAN BE AT THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP NEXT YEAR"
"For the U18 African championship, the ultimate ambition is to win it. We will be playing at home, we will have the support from our fans and the least we can do is to win the title. We are aware that there are tough sides but we’re tougher and we want to win the African Championship for our fans."
"Playing at home will be intense, there's going to be pressure because obviously Malians love victory but we grew up with this winning mentality and we’re using this pressure to motivate us. We want to dominate the championship and then sail through for next year’s world championship"
“I played the world championship this year and I know playing in two world championships in two years will be surreal. But who doesn’t want to play in such an important tournament? When you’re young these are the things you want to experience and I hope we can make it to the world championship next year," he established.