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01/07/2019
Julio Chitunda's African Message
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#FIBAU19: When the African champions shock the World Champions

LEEDS (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - What a tournament Mali are having in Crete, Greece!!! Two wins is as many games? That was surreal as recently as two years ago. 

As if beating Latvia (93-79) in the opening day of the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 wasn't good enough, the African champions stunned no less than the world reigning champions Canada 71-70 on Day 2 to improve to 2-0.

It's a historic result for any African side who never won more than one Group Phase game in the history of the tournament.

 

And when Mali - a team who dominated and outclassed their opponents at 2018 FIBA U18 African Championship in their capital city of Bamako - outlast Canada whose youth basketball programmes is deservedly rated as one of the best in international scene, that indicates how bright Mali's basketball is.

The most striking thing was Mali players' positive attitude exhibited during the game. They no longer seemed a team looking for a learning experience in a competition that gathers some of the stars of tomorrow. They never lost composure, they belong there. Mali are playing convincing basketball, moving the ball beautifully, shooting from from long range, dominating the paint, protecting the rim ferociously, communicating between one another and more intriguingly, executing effective pick-and-roll sets.

Just take a look at the numbers and check how they out-rebounded the world champs.

Obviously it's still early days to celebrate Mali's success in the competition, especially because they've shown that they cause even more damage in Crete.

Ahead of playing their last Group B against Australia on Tuesday, July 2, Mali point guard Siriman Kanoute reflected on his team's current moment: "This is really important for us to beat the champion. That will motivate us for the future. Now we have a lot of confidence to go really far."

How far Mali can go will depend on two important aspects: Consistency and Focus. A year ago Kanoute and Co showed tremendous consistency and determination in the African Championship, sealing a remarkable 8-0, and if they move the ball even better than they did thus far in Crete and stay angry, the Quarter-Finals won't just be a mirage, but a reality.

And things couldn't be more promising for Mali now that Gonzaga University new recruit Oumar Ballo - who missed the first two games - has finally joined the team in Crete. 

Ballo - a 6ft9in (2.05m) center- has been a factor for Mali in recent years, and in a recent interview with FIBA.basketball he noted that "Every generation is different. We are going to accomplish what our brothers didn't in the last few years. We take this very serious. We are lucky to have this chance. So we are going for it. We are working on progressing and letting the success make noise. We know what we want and we are going for it."

And, the world seems to be taking notice.

 

Mali came a long way to be in the position they are now. After making their U19 World Cup debut in 2007 where they were demolished 118-56 by a USA team led by future NBA superstars Stephen Curry, DeAndre Jordan and Co they failed to qualify for the following four World U19 Championships editions. They returned two years ago even though they returned home with lowly 0-7 mark.

Things look different this time around. 

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.