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Highlights from the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers
LEEDS (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - Now that Africa's five representatives for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 have been determined, it's time to look back and recall some of the most memorable moments that marked the African Qualifiers.
New competition system
Since its inception in November 2017, and through the lens of the African Qualifiers, FIBA's new competition system has offered a perspective that the continent wasn't used to.
Up until 2013, national teams qualified for the FIBA Basketball World Cup through continental championships. In the case of Africa, only the teams that finished in top three qualified and got to represent the continent in the following year's world stage event.
Under the new system, nine African cities - namely Bamako, Cairo, Maputo, Rades, Yaounde, Luanda, Lagos, Dakar and Abidjan - saw basketball fans flock into arenas to witness 16 national teams play 86 games over the course of a 15-month period.
New stars in the making
Throughout the African Qualifiers, a number of players put their names in the spotlight and became known to the public a little better.
Take Senegal's Youssoupha Ndoye as an example. After making the headlines for smashing a backboard at FIBA AfroBasket 2017, the 2.11m (6ft 11in) center came back better and stronger, averaging national team career-highs of 12 points and 6 rebounds.
How about Jordan Nwora? Well, the Louisville Cardinals standout was simply superb for the D'Tigers of Nigeria. The 20-year-old not only led Nigeria in scoring with 21 points in three games in the second window of the Qualifiers, but with his 36 points against Mali, he also established a new record in the African Qualifiers for most points scored in a game.
Democratic Republic of Congo
After making some noise at FIBA AfroBasket 2017, where they beat eventual finalists Nigeria before defeating Cote d'Ivoire, the Congolese upset yet another two Africa top-10 teams Angola and Egypt in the First Round of the African Qualifiers.
They left their talent documented and an impression that they could have done better than that. The future seems bright for the Congolese.
No unbeaten teams
Both Tunisia and Nigeria seemed destined to close their road-to-China campaigns undefeated in 12 games, but they ran out of gas, returning home with a 1-2 mark each in the last three games.
Nigeria (10-2), Senegal (10-2), Tunisia (10-2), Angola (9-3) and Cote d'Ivoire (7-5) finished in the top five of the Qualifiers and will represent Africa in the 32-team China 2019 showpiece.
Where did Cote d'Ivoire come from?
The Elephants' qualification to China became the talking point of moment. Three home wins in as many games wasn't exactly what many expected, but they have proved doubters wrong.
And a few hours after securing their ticket for the China 2019 showdown, Cote d'Ivoire star player Souleyman Diabate texted me to remind me of our conversations prior to Qualifiers: "We made it, I told you :-)" he wrote.
Nobody wanted to miss the African Qualifiers
Following debates about the African Qualifiers calendar, some of Africa's finest - Salah Mejri, Michael Roll, Central African Romain Sato, Senegal's Gorgui Dieng - made their presences felt to reaffirm the importance of the African Qualifiers.
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