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Niang keen to play for Senegal at FIBA AfroBasket 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (FIBA AfroBasket 2017) - As Senegal try to reach the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 Final Round via the FIBA Africa Zone 2 Qualifier, one man on the other side of the Atlantic is keeping his fingers crossed for them.

Indiana Pacers forward Georges Niang has never played for the country of birth of his father, but if they can improve on their 1-2 record in this week's second leg of the regional qualifier, the 23-year-old would see his chances of playing at FIBA AfroBasket 2017 in Congo-Brazzaville (August 19-30) significantly increased. 

Senegal will need to succeed against Cape Verde, Guinea and Mali to secure one of the two tickets for the Congo-Brazzaville showpiece.

And to bounce back from a poor qualifier run last week, Senegal will now count with the services of Xane D'Almeida and Maleye Ndoye who have joined the team this week.

Niang told FIBA.com why the FIBA AfroBasket matters to him and why he is keen on playing for the fourth-highest country in Africa.

You are from a Senegalese background. Can you tell us a bit about it?
My father was born and raised in Senegal and I have been there with him a couple of times. I am proud to be one of the few guys who represent Senegal in the NBA and I will be proud to represent the country and play for the national team.

Maurice Ndour and Gorgui Dieng said not that long ago that you are in contact with them and talk about the national team.
Yes we are in contact all the time. We talk about our seasons, about our lives and also about what the summer would be like if we play together. They are good friends of mine and Gorgui gives us some good advice about being an NBA player as he has been in the league for a couple of years now. It's good that we talk pretty often.

How much do you know about basketball in Africa and competitions like FIBA AfroBasket?
My father was from there and my agent played for Senegal's national team. They told me a lot about basketball in Senegal and in Africa in general. Gorgui told me about the potential of the national team and about the growth of basketball in the country and in the continent. I am pretty familiar with it, but playing is completely different. I know that the AfroBasket is a very competitive tournament where a lot of great teams compete and some super talented players are emerging. The level is high, and every player is proud to represent his country. That will be nice to represent a country that means so much to you.

Is representing Senegal a goal for you?
Yes for sure. It's definitely something I am looking into and that would be great. For now I am playing my NBA season and that takes most of my focus. It's my first year in the NBA, I am enjoying it and we are still early in the year.

What do you expect it to be like to wear the national team jersey and competing in a continental tournament for the first time?
It's going to be a learning experience for me. I will come with open ears and look to make the best of the opportunity. I will close my mouth and learn from the guys that did it before me and play for the national team. I am not going to be a guy who thinks or acts like 'I know about it' but be a sponge and learn on how to compete at that level.

FIBA AfroBasket 2017 is just a few months away. Would you like to play in the tournament if you get the opportunity to do so?
I definitely would. I would be excited to compete with the national team. I would enjoy a good experience, help the national team and keep learning and improving on my game. That would be awesome for me.

Have you been talking with the Senegalese federation lately?
Yes we talk frequently. Things have been going well.