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Cote d'Ivoire's Mohamed Kone - ''Playing in World Cup can change lives''
VICHY (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers) - Cote d'Ivoire's Mohamed Kone is urging his national team colleagues to remain hopeful of their FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 aspiration.
Although the Ivorians share the same (13) points with the Central African Republic in Group F of the World Cup African Qualifiers and need to win all three of their games to secure one of the remaining three tickets still on offer for African teams for next year's World Cup in China, Kone insists there is no reason to throw in the towel.
"AS A LITTLE BOY GROWING UP IN COTE D'IVOIRE, DREAMING OF PLAYING FOR THE NATIONAL TEAM GAVE EXTRA MOTIVATION TO CONTINUE PLAYING BASKETBALL, DESPITE THE OBSTACLES THAT I FACED EARLY IN MY CAREER."
Having played at a World Cup in 2010, the 6ft11in (2.11m) center knows better than most on his team about the significance of the games against Rwanda, Nigeria, and Mali in February.
With Nigeria as the first team to qualify from Group F, Cote d'Ivoire face a do-or-die scenario, but Kone insists he will do everything in his power to help the 'Elephants' make it to China.
"We must win all three games. We know the qualification doesn’t depend on us, but we feel we can do it,"Kone said.
Although Kone, who currently suits up for Vichy-Clermont in France's PRO B acknowledges the task ahead of them, he is urging his peers to avoid distractions and focus on their common goal, because, as he says, the World Cup could be a game-changer experience for players, coaches, and more, importantly, it could put Cote d'Ivoire basketball on international basketball map again.
"Playing for my country is like I am playing for my family; It’s pride. It means playing for my people back in Cote d'Ivoire. I love playing basketball [at club level], but playing for the national team is something else. I can not describe the feeling of playing for my country.
"World Cup is a big thing. Not everyone has the privilege of taking part in such a huge event. It’s an opportunity to play against big players and big teams. One day I will be proud to tell my kids that I played against big teams like Russia, France, Greece, USA etc.
"I started playing basketball as a little boy in Cote d'Ivoire. And, as a little boy growing up in Cote d'Ivoire, dreaming of playing for the national team gave me an extra motivation to continue playing basketball, despite the obstacles that I faced early in my career. But being able to put on the national team jersey meant the world to me."
Looking back at his 2010 World Cup experience, Kone still has a sense of unfinished business.
Although the Ivoirians finished with a 1-4 mark in Turkey eight years ago, things could have been worked a lot better for Kone, Guy Edi, Souleymane Diabate, and Charles Ebouo - a surviving quartet that keeps pushing Cote d'Ivoire in a quest to the China 2019 showpiece.
"We managed to win one game [88-79 against Puerto Rico], and we could have moved to the Second Round, but we needed to beat them by more than 12 points, which we didn’t. But it was a great experience.
Cote d'Ivoire is a small country basketball-wise, but after the World Cup a lot of people realized that we played good basketball.
"It opened the doors to some of our guys. Hopefully, we get a chance to get qualified. So we live the same experience from 2010.
"When I talk to young players and I mention that I played in the World Cup 2010, I feel the shine in their eyes."
In Turkey, Cote d'Ivoire lost to Russia [72-66], Greece [97-60], Turkey [86-47], and China [83-73].
"Everybody on our team - young, veteran, coaching staff - are motivated to qualify for the World Cup," Kone noted.
But, what keeps Kone so positive about their World Cup hopes?
"We played well against Nigeria - who were the favorites, but overall, it was a good outing for us," he recalled of their last three games in Lagos last month for the first leg of Group F.
"As I mentioned our fate depends on a number of circumstances. We don’t have our fates on our hands. But we have the potential to win the three games.
"[The Qualification] It’s above the players. We have to be organized because we - always start our preparations too late. We have a lot of good players, and all these guys are hungry to show. We got a team to beat anybody," he concluded.