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Time to see who will wear Ndong’s shoes in ACB
SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda’s African Message) - As far as I can remember, no other African player has ever achieved as much success in Spain's ACB league in a short period of time as Senegal's Boniface Ndong.
In just three seasons with the Spanish champions FC Barcelona, Ndong collected a remarkable 11 titles, including one Euroleague crown, two ACB titles, two Copa del Rey, three Spanish Super Cups and three Catalan leagues.
Nevertheless in early August, the 2005 Afrobasket MVP accepted a new challenge and left the club through the front door.
He leaves behind his charisma, respect as well as admiration from colleagues, directors and fans, who affectionately called him “Boni”.
The 35-year-old has agreed a one-year contract with Turkish giants Galatasaray, after a number of Spanish clubs - including Real Madrid - showed interest in signing him. Instead he chose Istanbul as his next home.
The change means there will be no Euroleague competition for Ndong in 2012-2013, but with his new team he has the opportunity to battle in the Eurocup, a trophy missing in his collection.
Only time will tell if he can repeat his achievements in Istanbul. The seven-footer still seems to be as fit as ever and averaged 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest in the ACB last season, during which he was named game MVP on two occasions.
Theoretically his achievements have become a record for African players in the ACB to beat. It is a challenge that seems hard to overcome but not impossible.
London Olympians Salah Mejri of Tunisia and Nigerian international Ekene Ibekwe have just joined ACB teams Blusens Mobus and Lagun Aro GBC respectively and they seem capable of competing for trophies.
These two players, like Ndong, bring international experience to their new teams as both have played professionally around Europe, before landing in Spain.
Mejri played two seasons with Belgium's Antwerp Giants, while Ibekwe comes from German club BBC Bayreuth, after having played in Israel, France and Turkey.
Clearly, Ndong’s achievement results from international experience in Russia, USA, France and Germany.
From the individual technical perspective, Mejri and Ibekwe are not much different than the Senegalese. The Tunisian is known for his shot-blocking effectiveness and the Nigerian enjoys playing over the rim, playing tough and fast.
Blusens Mobus and Lagun Aro GBC could be good starting points to stardom for both players, much in the way that Malaga Unicaja was for Ndong five years ago.
Mejri and Ibekwe are not Africa's only players in the ACB as Senegal will still have a presence in the league through Mouhamed Saer Sené, Michel Diouf (both Fuenlabrada) and Sitapha Savane (Joventut Badalona).
The African contingent is also represented by Alhaji Mohammed (Blancos Valladolid) from Ghana and Charles Ramsdell (Assignia Manresa) of Madagascar.
It is now time to see which African player will wear Ndong’s shoes in the upcoming ACB season.
Although he has had success in Spain, he has never hidden the ambition of winning an Afrobasket title with Senegal.
He often publicly criticised his country's basketball federation for alleged lack of adequate planning in order to succeed.
However, Ndong was really close to lifting his first African title at the 2005 Afrobasket in Algeria, but Senegal fell short, losing to Angola 70-61 in the Final.
Eventually he was consoled with the tournament's MVP title.
In 2009, he gave what might have been his last shot with Senegal, at the Afrobasket held in Libya, but his country finished seventh.
He still has a chance to win an African title as Senegal secured qualification to next year’s Afrobasket.
But, should he miss the 2013 African showdown, Ndong would probably be disappointed as he admitted in an interview with FIBA’s Jeff Taylor in 2008: “It would be sad for my career if we didn’t win it,” he confessed at the time.
Certainly, should Ndong win a Eurocup with his new club it will be a cherry on the top of the cake, although the Afrobasket title will be stuck in his throat.
Thus, I just wish Ndong a happy 35th birthday completed on 3 September.
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