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Morais shines light on Angola's transition ahead of World Cup
SIENA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers) - At 33, Angola captain Carlos Morais finds himself between the seasoned generation that has been at the core of the team's success over the past 15 years and the relentless upcoming new wave.
This status has earned him the right to have an evolving role. It consists of ensuring the old guard remains ambitious and leaving the young players with no choice other than to keep their eyes on him as a role model and as someone they want to match individually while also maintaining team goals.
"WINNING IS ALWAYS GOOD. IT MEANS A LOT TO US. BUT THIS TIME WE'RE WINNING FOR A BIGGER CAUSE. WE'RE GOING TO THE WORLD CUP AND WE KNOW IT'S THE BIGGEST STAGE ANY BASKETBALL PLAYER CAN REACH."
When Angola head coach Will Voigt was appointed a year ago, a core part of his first speech was to highlight the importance of taking this team back to the top of African basketball while introducing a new hungry breed of youngsters ready to take over the mantle.
The two tasks intersected at a crossroads and the hunger to achieve this has brought the team closer together, making the delegation of tasks more achievable and downright possible.
"Veterans - they are my vets. We've been playing together for a very long time. We understand each other's game so well. Our chemistry is great," Morais said. "I'm the captain but they too have a voice and whenever someone is doing something wrong, I allow them to talk to the players.
"It's the combination we have with young players. We've found a balance. Moving forward if we can keep going like this, if we can keep everyone going like that, we're going to be very hard to beat."
Winning 11 FIBA AfroBasket titles in 13 editions between 1989 and 2013 earned Angola the right to be talked about as the most successful and dominant African basketball team and leaving their rivals envious.
During that period of time and still to this day, those same rivals have chosen to build their teams in order to overtake the Angolans. In 2015, Nigeria succeeded as they defending the reigning continental champions in the AfroBasket Final. In 2017, it was Tunisia's turn to claim the honors.
"It was expected. We have been working but everybody else is working too," Morais reasoned. "If you see Tunisia, they're playing unbelievable basketball, the same thing with Nigeria. That is the natural development. We understand that.
"We also have young guys that can be a lot better than they are right now. If we keep working the way we have been working with coach Will and his staff, we are going to be better in the future."
"I ALWAYS TRY TO MOTIVATE MY GUYS TO BE THE BEST THEY CAN BE. SOMETIMES WE DON'T PLAY THE WAY WE WANT AND I UNDERSTAND THAT BUT I'M ALWAYS TRYING TO PUT GUYS IN APOSITION TO WIN AND BE THE BEST THEY CAN BE."
"I always try to motivate my guys to be the best they can be. Sometimes we don't play the way we want and I understand that but I'm always trying to put guys in a position to win and be the best they can be.
The 6ft 4in (1.93m) guard has especially taken to heart the role of being someone that the younger players can look up to and helping them prepare to achieve as much success as possible.
"I always try to lead by example in my career because I'm like a mirror. I always try to show the young guys that they have to work hard everyday to get better because the sky is the limit. You never know how good you can be and that has been the message," he stressed. "They have been unbelievable. They have been improving every day. In the near future, they are going to replace us.
"Cisse (Mohamed Cisse Malick) was not sure if he wanted to shoot or pass the ball. I just kept telling him that he just needs to do his thing. He was thinking too much. If he misses, that is it, we shall back you up. Those are some of the things that I have been doing."
Morais' balancing act of continuing to play a leading role for the team and grooming the next generation has been successful. Angola have won 9 of their 12 games in the African Qualifiers and punched their ticket to China after winning their last three games in the November-December window, in front of their home crowd in Luanda.
"Winning is always good. It means a lot to us. (But) This time we're winning for a bigger cause, We're going to the World Cup and we know it's the biggest stage any basketball player can reach," Morais pointed out. "We are very happy that we achieved this for our home crowd. It's a very special moment."