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10. Joaquim "Kikas" GOMES (Angola)
22/06/2015
Julio Chitunda's African Message
to read

A champion never quits

SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - If nothing changes, Angolan ace Joaquim Gomes will miss this year's AfroBasket.

After featuring in five consecutive African championships, it will be Gomes's first absence from the tournament.

When Moncho Lopez, the new head coach of Angola, announced his 15-player preliminary squad last week, the 34-year-old's name was nowhere to be seen.

It was without a doubt the biggest absence in Lopez's options.

As I write this column, the man who won four AfroBasket titles (2005, 2007, 2009 and 2013) and was named the MVP of the events in 2007 and 2009, was yet to make a public announcement about his omission as well as his future with the Angolan national team.

Gomes' omission indicates a new beginning for the 11-time African champions.

It also indicates Angola's need to launch a new generation of players. This is my understanding specially when I try to figure out the call-up of 16-year-old Silvio De Sousa.

Lopez's preliminary squad received mixed reactions in the country.

While some subscribed to the Spaniard's decisions, others suggested that the absence of Gomes's leadership could be detrimental for a team with high aspirations on the African scene.

After all, Gomes is one of the team's inspirational leader.

By the time this year's AfroBasket tips off in the Tunisian cities of Nabeul and Tunis on 19 August, six of the 15 players called up by coach Lopez will be 30 or older.

Bonifacio Domingos (30), Armando Costa (32), Olimpio Cipriano (33), Roberto Fortes (30), Eduardo Mingas (36) and Reggie Moore (34) are some the weapons that Lopez expect to win the AfroBasket 2015 and qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Lopez won't be able to claim lack of experience in his team. They are all still in their prime, although health issues are beginning to be felt, and some decline starts to become more evident.

Take the example of prolific scorer Cipriano.

He missed a number of regular-season games for Recreativo do Libolo due to a knee injury, and only managed four points in 32 minutes in Game 7 of the Angolan BIC Basket League Final last week, in which they lost the title to Petro de Luanda.

I am not sure whether Gomes's age was the reason behind Lopez's decision to leave him out, but, sooner or later that decision would have happened, and it could have affected anyone.

Of course, Gomes did not play much this past season with Primeiro D'Agosto, a club which missed out on podium places in the African Champions Cup and fell short in the Semi-Finals of the local championship.

One thing is certain for Gomes: the past 12 months have been tough for the man who has one of the most celebrated basketball careers in Africa.

He was trying to bounce back from a modest campaign at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, where he got little playing time.

He also vowed to stay strong after the death of his father earlier this year.

One thing I am sure of, regardless of anything, is that Gomes tried his best. And his omission from Lopez's preliminary squad may have come against his will.

When I met him last November in Benguela, Angola, he did not express any intention of retiring from the national team.

At the time he pledged to keep fighting to earn his place in the Angolan squad for the upcoming African championship.

It turns out, Gomes will need to come back stronger next season, and retire when he feels he is no longer capable of competing because a champion never quits.

Julio Chitunda

FIBA

FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

Julio Chitunda

Julio Chitunda

Julio Chitunda, a University of Sheffield alumni and former semi-professional player, has worked for a number of Portuguese media outlets as well as The Press Association and covered international basketball for over a decade. Through his column, he offers an insight into basketball on the world's second biggest continent.