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Cote d'Ivoire's Kone calls on team to carry attitude from last window of Qualifiers over to World Cup
CLERMONT (France) - With almost half of the team that played at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 2010 still part of the national side for this year's showdown in China, Cote d'Ivoire will aim to do things differently. At least, that's what power forward Mohamed Kone expects.
Nine years ago, Kone, Guy Landry Edi, Charles Abouo, Souleyman Diabate, Herve Lamizana and Ismael Ndiaye - now an assistant coach for the national team - did everything in their power to end Cote d'Ivoire's 24-year absence from FIBA's flagship competition in style. However, four losses in five games - including one against tournament hosts Turkey - proved costly for the 'Elephants'.
"OUR SUCCESS IN THE LAST WINDOW OF THE QUALIFIERS WAS ALL ABOUT WILL. WE HAVE TO MAINTAIN THAT KIND OF MENTALITY AT THE WORLD CUP."
Knowing the importance of playing in such a huge event, the sextet came together for the African Qualifiers, and the result couldn't have been any better than securing a place at the first-ever 32-team World Cup.
At China 2019, Cote d'Ivoire will open their campaign in Beijing's First Round Group A, facing hosts China, Poland and Venezuela.
"I don't think ours is the toughest group, and I believe we can make something out of it," Kone told FIBA.basketball when asked to assess their group.
Mohamed Kone (Cote d'Ivoire)
Kone is well placed to talk about what it's like to face the host country at the World Cup, having done so eight years ago in the Turkish capital of Ankara. So what does he foresee it being like this summer in the Chinese capital?
"It's tough but not impossible to win," the 2.10m (6ft10in) big man answered. "We've got some chances in our group, even playing against China. We almost beat China in Turkey, but we let that slip away from our hands.
"I know Poland have strong and good players, and Venezuela - who we've played before - is also a good team. But everybody in our team will be ready if we have good preparations."
The 38-year-old, who plays for Vichy-Clermont in France's PRO B, has experienced joy and sorrow when representing his country. Missing out on the 2014 World Cup in Spain after finishing fourth at FIBA AfroBasket 2013 held in his native Abidjan has served as a positive lesson for the veteran and his teammates.
"It feels good to be back at the World Cup, playing for the second time," he noted. "Not a lot of people, from where I come from, have made it this far. Playing against best players from around the world is a big achievement, especially at my age. That will be a good ending [to my career]. That's why we live and play professional basketball."
After a tough African Qualifiers campaign - during which the Elephants compiled a 7-5 record to claim the region's fifth and final spot for the World Cup - Cote d'Ivoire have to head to China with confidence.
They went into the final Qualifiers window this past February - which they hosted in Abidjan - knowing they needed to win all three of their last games to qualify as the best-ranked third-placed team in Africa. However, winning alone was not enough. They had to prevail in all three games by a combined margin of at least 65 points. Anything short of that and Cameroon would be the team punching the final African ticket to China.
"There was nothing special to win those three games. Everybody came with a will to do something for our country. Everybody came focused to win," Kone explained. "We didn't have much time to prepare for the games. Playing at home, in front of your family, it was tough, because you have a lot of pressure to deliver and make them proud. Our success in the last window of the Qualifiers was all about will. We have to maintain that kind of mentality at the World Cup."
Beating Nigeria by 26 points wasn't necessarily what most expected, especially as the 2015 African champions entered the last qualifying window with a 9-0 record.
"We knew we could beat them. When we played against them in Nigeria (in September 2018), we almost had them," Kone recalled. "They have good players, but we fought a lot. We got mentally ready to beat Nigeria. We knew how much we needed to beat them by. They had a bad game, and we had a good game, and everything went well for us."
For Kone's Vichy-Clermont teammate Arnaud Adala Moto of Cameroon, it was a tough pill to swallow.
"We always talk about it. We were in a better position and we had many chances to qualify, especially playing at home," Kone conceded. "We took our chances and the result is there for everybody to see. I'm sorry for them [Cameroon]. [Adala] is upset, but it's all about fair-play. If that was my case, I would not be mad at all."
Kone, who has visited China, said that the East Asian giant "has become a basketball country over the last few years. They love the sport and they have NBA-like facilities."