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Cisse looking to inspire Mali in front of home fans
BAMAKO (FIBA Basketball World 2019 African Qualifiers) - Two years on, and Souarata Cisse is back and ready to inspire Mali in this week's first-leg of Group B of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers.
The 6ft5in (1.96m) forward who led Mali in scoring with almost 11 points per game at FIBA AfroBasket 2015, revealed to FIBA.basketball that he and his national teammates can't wait to get started.
From February 23-25, Mali host Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda in their capital city of Bamako, in a bid to reach the 12-team second round of the World Cup African Qualifiers.
And, Cisse is treating his national return as a special occasion.
"I AM JUST AS EXCITED AS ANY MALI FAN IN THE STREETS OF THIS COUNTRY. WE ARE NOW PRACTICING BEHIND DOOR, BUT I CAN FEEL THE EXCITEMENT ON OUR FANS' FACES. IT'S GOING TO BE CRAZY." - Cisse
As Mali opened their training camp earlier this week, Cisse felt they have what it takes to win all their homes three games.
"No disrespect to Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda, but our mindset right now is to win all our home games because we believe we can do it. The team is in great shape, our fans are behind us, we have to protect our home and we can't wait to get started," he explained.
He added: "If the team needs me to play a scoring role, I can do that. If the coaching staff wants me to rebound more or play defense I will also be ready to do that."
Cisse, who currently plays for Brissac Anjou Basket in France's NM1, is one of the players that newly appointed head coach Remi Giuitta believes can take Mali to another level.
"I am just as excited as any Mali fan in the streets of this country. We are now practicing behind closed doors, but I can feel the excitement on our supporters faces. It's going to be crazy," the 32-year-old offered.
Can Mali qualify for China 2019?
Cisse has no doubts and uses Mali's 67-60 FIBA AfroBasket 2015 Quarter-Finals defeat to hosts Tunisia as an example of their determination to fight some of Africa's heavyweights.
"Tunisia were the better team but we almost reached the Semi-Finals in that tournament," he said. "Yes, we can qualify for China 2019, we are a more experienced team."
Although Cisse was born in France and has represented the European country at youth level, he feels strong connections to his parent's country.
"Whenever I can, I am ready for Mali. I wish I could have helped my national team last year, but I had just joined my new club, and it became impossible to prepare the new season and join Mali at the same time. Hopefully, other guys like Cheick Diallo (who plays for New Orleans Pelicans) can join the team in the summer."
"THE NEW QUALIFICATION SYSTEM WILL ALLOW MALI TO DEVELOP ITS BASKETBALL POTENTIAL AT ALL LEVELS. IN THE PAST, OUR FANS ONLY SAW US PLAY EVERY TWO YEARS, NOW WE HAVE A HUGE CHANCE OF BECOMING A CONSISTENT TEAM.”- Cisse
Asked to describe Mali's final roster for the first-leg of the World Cup African Qualifiers, Cisse said: "This group of Mali players is one - if not - the best in recent years. I have faced coach Giuitta many times in PRO B, and, I am sure he will add a new dynamic to the team."
Under FIBA's new competition system, five African nations will qualify for the 32-team FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China, and the prospect of playing for Mali a few more times this year is what Mali needed, Cisse insists.
"The new qualification system will allow Mali to develop its basketball potential at all levels. In the past, our fans only saw us play every two years, now we have a huge chance of becoming a consistent team. As players, we can meet more often and raise the Mali flag for the world to see."