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Tunisia's Omar Abada: "We're still the best team in Africa"
TUNIS (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers) - Omar Abada was superb in helping Tunisia reach the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.
His team-high 12.3 points per game to go along with 3.8 assists perfectly reflect his influence on the African champions' African Qualifiers campaign, which saw Tunisia win 10 of their 12 games.
Now, as the 6ft 2in (1.89m) point guard looks back on the last 12 months of the qualifying campaign for China 2019, he insists the hours, days and weeks away from his family and friends to serve his country were all worth it.
"WHEN YOU PLAY FOR THE NATIONAL TEAM, YOU PLAY WITH YOUR HEART AND SOUL AND YOU LEAVE EVERYTHING ON THE COURT."
Tunisia, along with Angola and Nigeria secured the first three of five tickets for African countries for the first-ever 32-team World Cup.
"Now our minds are focused on the FIBA Basketball World Cup," said Abada, who was 17 when more than half of his current teammates faced a Kevin Durant-led USA at FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010 in Turkey.
He followed the events closely back then and made a promise that one day he himself would face some of the word's best players at some point in his career.
It didn't take long for Abada's childhood dream to come true.
In 2011, the promising young star made a name for himself at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Latvia, even though the North Africans returned home without a win.
Abada led Tunisia with 11.8 points per game at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in 2011
"We're all looking forward to this competition in China and we want to do our best to have a great run. Nobody said it will be easy, but we're going to China to compete and to try to make our fellow compatriots proud and show the world that Africa has talents everywhere," said the 25-year-old.
"China is a huge basketball country and I'm also looking forward to seeing the crowds and fans. I'm sure they will love the tournament and fill the stands for every game."
An important question now is whether or not Tunisia can win their first World Cup game next summer.
For Abada, anything is possible.
"When you play for the national team, you play with your heart and soul and you leave everything on the court," he said. "I always play with a lot of intensity and I want to help the guys at every game. I love playing for the national team and the 12 games we played during the qualifiers were a very good ride, despite some losses."
Reflecting on his U19 World Cup experience, Abada admits Tunisia had a rough campaign but he kept more positives than negatives.
"I really learned a lot during that competition despite our struggles," he recalled. "When you play against the top teams and the best players in the world of your age, you can only learn, improve and it's like a quicker process of gaining experience of growing both as a player and as a man.
"We had some tough games, but we all learned from it. Playing on the world stage is something very good, at all levels, including the youth one."
"WE'RE STILL THE BEST TEAM IN AFRICA BUT THE COMPETITION IS VERY INTENSE. NIGERIA, SENEGAL, ANGOLA AND ALSO A TEAM LIKE CAMEROON CAN PLAY AT A VERY HIGH LEVEL. IT'S VERY GOOD TO SEE THAT THE LEVEL IN AFRICA IS GETTING BETTER AND BETTER."
Under the FIBA National Team Competitions System & Calendar, the FIBA AfroBasket takes place every four years instead of every two years as was the case up until last year. This means that Tunisia, who won the title in 2017, are Africa's reigning continental champions until 2021.
And even though Tunisia closed their African Qualifiers campaign with defeats against Egypt and Angola, Abada is adamant that nothing's changed.
"We're still the best team in Africa but the competition is very intense. We need to keep working hard and improving because some other teams are improving a lot and getting very competitive too," he warned.
"Nigeria, Senegal, Angola and also a team like Cameroon, can play at a very high level. It's very good to see that the level in Africa is getting better and better. It also pushes us to be more competitive and to not take things for granted because we're the current continental champions. We want to stay at the top of the continent for as long as possible."