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Senegal's Hamady Ndiaye: ''Spain 2014 was great for us, China 2019 has to be even better''
AVELLINO (Italy) - Senegal have been drawn in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019's so-called "Group of Death" but, for Hamady Ndiaye, that's exactly what he'd hoped for.
The 2.13m (7ft) center likes challenges and, when last month's FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Draw resulted in Senegal finding themselves in Group H alongside Australia, Canada and Lithuania, he didn't bother to check where the Senegalese stood in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike compared to their opponents.
"WE HAVE TO BUILD ON THOSE WINS (FROM SPAIN 2014) AND TRY TO DO EVEN BETTER IN CHINA."
Lithuania are sixth in the world, Australia stand just outside the top 10 (11th) and Canada are inside the top 25 (23rd) while Senegal - the second highest-ranked team in Africa - are 37th.
"This is what the World Cup's all about,"Ndiaye said to FIBA.basketball, adding "You have to play against the best of the best, and I'm really excited about this World Cup."
Senegal qualified for China 2019 on the back of their 10-2 record in the African Qualifiers
Senegal will play the Group Phase in the Chinese city of Dongguan from September 1-5.
"It's a tough group, no question about that," Ndiaye admitted, before explaining what keeps him motivated for the challenge. "They're all very good teams but I look forward to playing them. We have nothing to lose. We have a good group of players and coaching staff and I believe the team we have now will be even better at the World Cup.
"These are top teams, but over the past few years we've got used to playing these types of teams. I talk to my national team teammates about the World Cup, and everybody is really excited about it."
For the 32-year-old who currently plays for Sidigas Avellino in Italy's topflight, there is a reason for excitement.
Five years ago, at the World Cup in Spain, Ndiaye & Co beat Puerto Rico before stunning world basketball thanks to a shocking win over European heavyweights Croatia to ensure the West Africans progressed to the Final Phase.
Ndiaye reflected on that event, which happened to be Senegal's most successful World Cup appearance.
"That was my best experience with my national team. It was an experience that I will keep it in my mind for many, many years," he said.
Ndiaye emphasised that Senegal could have gone farther in the competition, but an 89-56 defeat to hosts Spain in the Round of 16 meant the end of the dream of becoming the first African team to reach the Quarter-Finals at the World Cup.
"Spain had a very, very good team. Playing them in Madrid in front of a capacity crowd was tough for us, but we left with our heads held high," he recalled.
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SÉNÉGAL 🇸🇳 I have never in my career felt as much Love, Respect and Support from no other place than what I feel representing My Country!!! This Journey started for me in 2013 when my goal was to bring back Joy and excitement to our population for Senegalese Basketball! The pride I have for my jersey 🇸🇳 is in my blood. I can Not Thank everyone by name but the support I received and hopefully will continue to receive from my Family, Friends and Fans will always be the best in my heart. To my family I hope I have represented you well because you raised a Lion and without you there would never be Me. Your words of encouragement, your open arms when I needed it but most of all your presence for the first time in my life when I saw almost ALL of my Family UNITED Under one stadium and all watching the same event to support Us might be my favorite memory of this trip. To me nothing comes over you guys and though my body is always at work I never failed to know who I'm representing first! To my Friends, I thank you for being able to be the medium between me and my crazy ways. You are there for me and listen to my non sense or even just the calls to check on me knowing and respecting my work ethic means way more than I lead most to believe but to me every small details matter and my true friends know what I'm talking about. To my Fans...I truly don't know where to start..."Thank You" is not enough you have made me feel you Love and Support in ways I can't explain. From the amazing and I mean relentless crowd that took over Marius Ndiaye to the Ones streaming and the games all over the world all the way to my beautiful village of Ngaparou I felt each and every one of your prayers and It Fueled me to feel the love from over 14 Million Peoples from 🇸🇳🇸🇳🇸🇳. ALL GLORY TO GOD FIRST AND LAST! Without him non of it would been possible and he guided us through this Journey from beginning to End. We came in to Win a Cup and ended with the Bronze so I'm grateful because it's his will and we will accept it and wait for our turn to be First! My heart pains me that We couldn't bring back the Cup to Senegal but we definitely bringing back that 🥉 medal!! Thanks to my team
"We have to build on those wins and try to do even better in China. Spain 2014 was great for us, China 2019 has to be even better than that. It's about time for Senegal to make our people back home proud, but we are going to need to bring everybody together and have good preparation plan. Our success in China will depend on how we prepare the team," Ndiaye pointed out.
Consistency has been key to many successful basketball programs. Asked to compare the Senegalese team that will show up in China to the one that featured in Spain, Ndiaye noted that "in 2014 we were getting to know each other as a team. It was the first time that that group played together. Now we know each other better, our team's chemistry is great, and we are more experienced as a team."
Although Senegal have never played Lithuania or Australia at a World Cup before, they are relatively familiar to Canada, a team they played at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2016 in Manila, Philippines.
"It's going to be great to play Canada again. At the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila we had that game in our hands, but we let it slip away," Ndiaye said of their 58-55 defeat.
"Lithuania? I can't wait to play them. They are one of the best teams in the world, and there is nothing like playing a team like that. It's going to be great."
Under FIBA's new competition system, 32 countries will feature in the World Cup for the first time, and Africa, unlike previous three editions (2014, 2010 and 2006), saw its representation increase from three to five countries.
"THE WORLD CUP IN SPAIN WAS MY BEST EXPERIENCE WITH MY NATIONAL TEAM. I WILL KEEP IT IN MY MIND FOR MANY, MANY YEARS."
Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Tunisia and Senegal will bear the African flag in China this summer.
Ndiaye said: "At this time, I believe that Africa will be well represented in China. I believe one of the African teams will go further given the talented group of players we have. I wasn't surprised by the qualification of Cote d'Ivoire. I have seen them play in the African Qualifiers, and they have a very good team also."